21:9 - 27
(Delivered at Bethany Bible Church on Sunday, October 1, 2000. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
Every once in a while -- especially at times when things are really busy -- Marilyn and I like to do what many families do: schedule a little "get-away" time. We might reserve a day or two at our favorite beach house at the Oregon Coast; or we might drive up north to Gig Harbor near Tacoma and spend a few days there. We've found that, during those times when we feel as if we're under a heavy workload and are pressed in with a lot of responsibilities, we can bear up as a family under all the day-to-day burdens and be encouraged because we have a couple of wonderful days at one of our favorite get-away spots to look forward to.
That's an illustration -- albeit an imperfect one -- of how God wants us to feel about passages in the Bible that describe the glories of heaven. He wants us to read them and be encouraged in the midst of all our day-to-day struggles -- or even during times of painful burden and trial. He wants us to know that there's a glorious home He is preparing for us, and that we'll soon be there; and so we should be uplifted during times of trial or suffering. As Jesus has said to His disciples, just before He went to the cross;
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:1-3).
Jesus spoke here of a literal place that He's literally preparing for us; and He is literally coming back to take us there one day. It thrills to think about that place. It thrills me think about what it will be like to be there. I love to think about enjoying eternal fellowship with Jesus; and finally seeing the wonderful place He is preparing for us. Don't you?
There are some people that don't believe we should spend our time day-dreaming about heaven. "There's too many urgent problems and difficulties in the world," they would say. "People all around us are suffering. We should concentrate on solving the problems of the world instead of taking up precious time talking about heaven."
I certainly agree with them that we should work to solve those problems as best we can. But I strongly disagree with the idea that it's a waste of our time to think about heaven. I believe we do much to relieve the troubles in this world when we faithfully declare God's promises about heaven, and when we cultivate a genuine faith in those promises within ourselves. In fact, I think it's right to say that many of the problems we see in the world today are precisely the result of people spending too little time thinking about heaven!
What about you? Do you spend much time thinking about heaven? Do you ever daydream about what it will be like? Many people have allowed their imaginations to run away with them in thinking about what heaven is really like. But this morning, we're going to look at a description God Himself gives us of heaven. It comes in the form of a vision He revealed to the apostle John; and it's the most detailed description in all the Bible of the eternal home that God is preparing for us. It's found in Revelation 21:9-27.
Before we begin looking at this passage, let me suggest a way we might think about it. You might compare it with a realtor showing us a house. If we considered buying a home, the realtor might first show us some photos of the exterior of the house as it's situated in its surrounding area. Then, he or she might show us some closer snapshots of the building itself, so the exterior design can be seen. Finally, he or she might show us some interior snapshots, or take us on a guided tour, so could examine the quality and craftsmanship of the home from an inside view. In other words, the realtor would give us a view of our future home from far away, and then a view from up close, and finally a view from inside.
I believe that's how God shows us our future heavenly home in this passage. In verses 9-14, He shows us the beauty of our future home from a distance. Then, in verses 15-21, He shows us its beauty from up close. And finally, in verses 22-27, He shows us its beauty from inside.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; God has purpose in every word that He has sovereignly preserved for us in the Scriptures. And think about it! Here, we find that He has preserved for us a whole chapter's worth of a detailed description of our eternal home. He 'whets' our appetite for eternity in this passage by giving us a tour of the place He's preparing for us. I don't believe we can spend enough time looking at it. And I couldn't be more pleased if, as a result of our time together this morning, you were to take your Bible, get alone with the Lord sometime soon, and sit a while with Him meditating on what it says.
"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, "Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (vv. 9-14).
John was shown this vision by "one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues". This reminds us that all this beauty we're about to be shown follows on the heals of a series of events that are very ugly. John had been given a picture of the awful judgment of God poured out on the wicked, rebellious sinfulness of men and women upon the earth. The Book of Revelation describes, as it were, the removal of God's sovereign, restraining hand; allowing the wickedness of the sinful human heart to express itself to the fullest extent. And finally, Revelation 15:1 says, "Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous; seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete."
In the chapters that follow, John described the outpouring of God's wrath on the earth from the standpoint of heaven -- each of the seven angels having a bowl which contained seven "plagues", which they poured out on the earth.
But when we come to Revelation 21, we find that the outpouring of God's wrath has long since been completed. Jesus had returned to the earth to rule as King of kings and Lord of lords for a thousand years; all the dead had been raised for final judgment; and the present heavens and the present earth had been taken away, and all things had been made new in their place. John begins in 21:1-2 by saying,
"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (21:1-2)."
One of the seven angels who had poured out the wrath of God now takes John up in the Spirit to a great and high mountain. He tells him, "Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife."
Think of that; "the bride, the Lamb's wife"! What a beautiful name for our future home! Throughout the book of Revelation, Jesus is presented as the Lamb, who had been slain for our sins, but now "stands" alive (4:6). Earlier, in Revelation 19:7, the saints were encouraged to rejoice; "Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his wife has made herself ready." And in 21:2, we were told that John saw "the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." And now, John is given a vision of "the bride, the Lamb's wife".
This wonderful city is inseparably identified with the Church; which the Bible presents as the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25); and Jesus is wonderfully identified with His Church as its Husband. This wonderful city will be much more than our home. It will be the place of our eternal relationship with Jesus, our Beloved.
Look at how John describes the beauty of this city when viewed from afar. John first describes its origin. It has the mark of God's handiwork upon it. It is seen "descending out of heaven from God"; and it even has "the glory of God". It doesn't merely reflect the glory of God; rather, John describes it as "having" the glory of God. No earthly city could ever claim that.
Next, he describes its radiance. He says that its light "was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal". Imagine the sight of the city descending from God -- shimmering and glittering like a precious, costly gem when struck by the light!
When Marilyn and I were living in Seattle, we used to enjoy taking ferry boat rides across the Puget Sound; and I used to believe that there was nothing more beautiful than the Seattle waterfront at night. Sometimes, it was a rather ugly city in the daylight. You'd see broken-down warehouses and grungy docks on the scummy water. You'd see graffiti scrawled on the buildings, and broken windows, and garbage on the streets. But at night, with the lights shimmering along the waterfront, it's truly beautiful.
I suppose any city can look beautiful at night. But this city was glorious and shimmering in the daylight!
Finally, John describes its layout. There's a marvelous order to it all. First, he says that it's surrounded by a "great and high wall". Cities in ancient times were always surrounded by a wall for protection and defense. But the wall that surrounds the New Jerusalem simply symbolizes its eternal security and strength, and helps to accentuate its great order and beauty. Its gates are described as always open; and they will only be used by the redeemed saints to bring the glory of the nations into the city (vv. 24-26). This greatest of all city walls will have twelve gates, with twelve angels guarding each gate. But neither the wall, nor the gates, nor the angels will ever be needed for protection and defense. There will never be a need to keep anyone out. There will never be anything harmful that can enter in.
And second, John tells us that this city is laid out in such a way as to tell the story of God's plan of redemption. The city wall had twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. The gates are even arranged in the same pattern as the tribes were arranged whenever they camped around the tabernacle in the wilderness (Num. 2:1-31).
But also notice that the city wall rested upon twelve foundation stones; each of which was marked with the names of the twelve apostles. And so, we see that the city is laid out in such a way as to tell the story of God's promise to Abraham of the coming Messiah -- born as the seed of Abraham, and testified of by the twelve apostles. As Paul has said, "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20).
This greatest of all cities will tell the greatest of all stories. We'll dwell there forever; and we'll forever rejoice in the story of the redeeming love of Jesus -- the Lamb of God -- whose sacrifice made it possible for us to be there in the first place.
2. Its Beauty from Up Close (vv. 15-21).
"And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation 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, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass (vv. 15-21)."
In this closer view of our future home, John tells us that the angel who who had talked with him had a "gold reed" in his hand; with which he would measure the city, its gates, and its wall. And it's here that John gives us the breathtaking description of the awesome dimensions of this glorious city.
He says, first, that it was laid out as a square; its length and width being the same. And he tells us that its height is the same as its length and width -- "twelve thousand furlongs".
A "furlong" or "stradia" was a unit of measurement equivalent to 607 feet. That means that this city was 1,378 miles long, wide and high. Its width would be close to the distance between Portland to Chicago, and its length to that between Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. It would constitute a city surface area of approximately 1,903,158 square miles! And, it would reach such a height that we'd need glorified bodies to be able to survive going to the top; making it occupy a space of 2,625,501,989 cubic miles total! This city is inconceivably vast! No wonder John had to be on a high mountain to catch a glimpse of even a portion of it!
One man estimated that a city of that size, based on the average number of people living in a square mile of the city of London in his day, could hold a hundred thousand million people. Christian writer and scientist Dr. Henrey Morris has estimated that the total number of people that have ever lived upon the earth is around 40 billion. If, as Dr. Morris suggests, we assume that another 40 billion people would be alive during the millennial reign of Jesus; and allow another 20 billion for those who died before or soon after childbirth, then we could safely estimate the total numbers of people who will have ever lived in the human race to be around 100 billion. If we assume that 20 percent of this total will have been saved (including those who died in infancy), then given the total cubit space of the New Jerusalem -- allowing for buildings, structures, parks and streets -- every resident will be able to enjoy an average cubic block of space all their own that extends approximately seventy-five acres in any one direction!
But we haven't talked about the wall yet! The Bible tells us that the city wall will be "one hundred forty-four cubits"; or 216 feet (according to the angel's measurements; which, apparently, were the same as human measurements). Now; for a city that's 1,380 miles high, a 216 foot wall doesn't sound like much. But the Bible tells us that this is a "great and high" wall. The figure of 216 feet is describing its thickness -- not its height! Imagine a "great and high" wall that's 216 feet thick!!
And think of the composition of this wall. John said, "The construction of its wall was of jasper". The jasper of the Bible was a beautiful, multi-colored stone of great value. Its exact nature isn't certain; but here we find that the enormous wall that surrounds the New Jerusalem is composed of it. John doesn't simply say that the wall was composed of something "like" jasper; but rather, he said it was composed of jasper! Imagine a great and high wall of jasper, surrounding a city of these dimensions!
Jasper was associated with the majestic holiness of God seated upon His heavenly throne in Revelation 4:3; "And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance ..." And so perhaps, to some degree, this marvelous wall of jasper speaks of the majestic holiness of God that surrounds the New Jerusalem -- resplendent and awesome in its glory. Perhaps something of this was hinted at long ago in the prophet Isaiah, when God spoke of Jerusalem's future and said, "Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise" (Isaiah 60:18).
John speaks of the gates of this wall as made of solid pearl. When you consider this enormous wall -- great and high, and 216 feet thick -- to think of its gates being made of solid pearl stretches our imaginations past the limit! And there are twelve of these gates!! What a unspeakable wonder of exquisite beauty this wall must be!! You might ask, "What sort of an oyster can produce pearls like these?" Well -- if God can produce what we've seen of this city so far, I don't have much trouble believing He can produce huge gates of solid pearl without huge oysters if He wishes; ... do you?
What's so marvelous about this is the fact that a pearl is the result of irritation from sand particles in an oyster's shell. It's the most beautiful product of suffering we can imagine in the realm of nature. And perhaps these gates will be forever a reminder to us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross -- who was "for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor" (Hebrews 2:9).
And then, think of the foundation stones of this wall. John was shown that they were twelve in number, and were each adorned in their order with twelve different kinds of precious stones -- jasper (a greenish crystal) as the first; then sapphire (a deep blue stone); chalcedony (a greenish derivative of copper); emerald (a deep-greenish stone); sardonyx (a layered stone of red and white); sardius (or carnelian; a deep-red stone); chrysolite (a yellowish-gold colored stone); beryl (a green stone); topaz (a greenish-yellowish gold in color); chrysoprase (a greenish quartz); jacinth (a bluish-purple stone); and amethyst (a purple quartz). The foundation stones of this marvelous city wall will radiate with all the colors of the rainbow! How unspeakably beautiful it must be!
And then, finally, consider the city itself! John sees that "the city was pure gold, like clear glass" (v. 18). The city isn't composed of brick and concrete and steel. It's composed of gold; a gold purer than any human work of refinement could ever make gold to be. It's as if John is having to stretch words beyond their capacity in order to describe what he saw -- a gold so pure, it has a transparent quality like glass. Who can imagine what that must look like -- "gold, like clear glass"?
And not only is the city itself gold, but John also says, "and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass" (v. 21). He speaks here of a single street -- perhaps something like the New Jerusalem's 'main street' -- as itself composed of this indescribably pure gold!
The home that the Lord Jesus is preparing for us is of such marvelous beauty and quality and magnitude that it defies language! All we can do is read it in awe -- and praise God that He loves us so much that He sent His Son to the cross so that we could be there. How He must love us!!
3. Its Beauty From Inside (vv. 22-27).
Just when we feel as if our breath is completely taken away from us by the exterior beauty of this city, that's when God gives us a glimpse inside!
"But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life (vv. 22-27)."
What's fascinating about John's description of the inside of the city is that he doesn't start off by telling us what he sees; but rather what he doesn't see. He says, "I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (v. 22).
Before Jesus came, the temple in the Old Jerusalem -- and more specifically, the Holy of Holies behind the veil within the temple -- was the single spot on earth where God identified His presence to mankind. But when Jesus died and paid the price for our sins, we're told that "the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom" (Matthew 27:51). God was showing to the world that, now, He is approachable through Christ. People no longer needed to come to Him through the temple, with animal sacrifices, forever kept from His holy presence by the veil.
And the New Jerusalem will be an illustration of the freedom of our approach to God through Christ. God Himself and the Lamb are the temple; and the citizens of the New Jerusalem will have no need for a temple building. "God Himself will be with them and be their God" (Rev. 21:3). The absence of a temple indicates that it is, everywhere, the dwelling place of God. God and man shall live together forever.
Nor was their any sunlight or moonlight. John says that, "the city had no need for the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it". We're told very simply that "the Lamb is its light". The glorious splendor of Jesus Himself will radiate throughout the city; and the light of His glory will be transferred throughout this golden, glass-like city as if through the gigantic lens of a lighthouse lamp. As Isaiah wrote of the New Jerusalem; "The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but the LORD will be to you and everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended" (Isaiah 60:19-20).
John goes on to say, "And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it" (v. 24). And here, we make a startling discovery: there will be nations and kingdoms and kings surrounding this glorious city. Obviously, these nations are composed of redeemed people; and though we're not told much about them, we're told that whatever glory they possess will find its center-point in the New Jerusalem. They will constantly and continually pass through its gates and bring their glory and honor into it, because "Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it" (vv. 25-26).
Finally, notice John's closing words; "But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life" (v. 27). As we've been told earlier, all such will have their part, not in the New Jerusalem, but in "the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (21:8).
If everyone were to be excluded who had ever been defiled by sin, or who had ever offended our holy God through their rebellious acts, or who had in any way spoken or embraced what is contrary to the truth, then none of us would ever enter the New Jerusalem. All of us would be excluded -- and rightly so, because it's a holy place "in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13). I'm a sinner; and I know I'd be excluded. God can't simply ignore my sins and let a sinner like me slip into heaven. If He were to do that, He would violate His own holiness and defile His holy city by my presence.
But I praise God that not all sinners will be excluded. John says that no sinner will ever by any means enter it, but only those sinners whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. In fact, the only kind of people who will live in this city will be sinners -- redeemed sinners who have been saved and washed clean by God's grace through the shed blood Jesus Christ -- redeemed sinners whose names are recorded in the Lamb's book of life. It's the Lamb's city; and if my name is in His book, then I'm welcomed in as a citizen forever. So are you, if your name is written there.
Is your name written in the Lamb's book of life? Have you confessed to God that you're a sinner; and that you cannot save yourself from your sins; and that, apart from God's mercy, you'd never be permitted into His holy presence? Have you placed your faith in what Jesus did on the Cross for your sins? Have you trusted Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?
If you have, then, we can say together that the New Jerusalem is our home. As Paul said, "... Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20).
(copyright 2000 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.)