God and His People
Primary Truth Taught- In the New Jerusalem God will have a perfect sinless people to love and worship Him forever.
Throughout this series we have read so much wonderful rich symbolism. Among the chapters in Revelation, there is probably no chapter as full as 21.
Here, probably more than any other place, God in His wonderful grace gives John a glimpse of what must soon take place. Here, John seeks to communicate heaven’s glory in human words. Human words are sufficient to reveal God’s revelation to us. It’s not so much the words but the context we lack.
One scholar explains it like this: There are a very simple tribal people living in a remote part of Papa New Guiney that are very primitive. So primitive that they have not even come to the Stone Age. They still make weapons out of wood no arrowheads etc. Imagine you could speak their language fluently. Now in their language you’re going to explain what electricity is. What would you tell them? Words are sufficient, however, they have no concept of electricity; no context at all for it. You could say that there is some spirit or force that enters your hut on wires…no you can’t say wires, maybe vines and powers the toaster…no, they don’t know what power is or a toaster. You could say that this energy…no you can’t say that either. You could say, you turn on a switch and a light comes on that looks like a little sun hanging from the ceiling…you can’t say switch or ceiling either…do you get the point?
That’s why Revelation uses such deep and magnificent symbolism, because John is describing something that we don’t have conceptions of. Because we’re sinners and fallen and literally marooned on the cursed planet we have no context to invision the pure and holy things of God. So, corrupt and without a godly context that to look upon God would kill us instantly.
Listen to what Paul tells us about this lack of spiritual perception…
2 Corinthians 12:2–5 (ESV)
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—
Verse 4 tells us that Paul heard things that cannot be uttered. It’s not that he wasn’t allowed to talk about it but that he couldn’t talk about it. The English confuses the matter slightly. The third heaven was so beautiful and he heard so many things that sinners like us have no conception or way of processing. It would be like trying to explain electricity to a primitive people.
John 3:9–13 (ESV)
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
So, the Book of Revelation is God’s grace shown to us even though it is extremely difficult to grasp. God has taken glorious eternal heavenly things and reduced them down so that we might understand them.
I say all that to say that what we are about to read is God giving us just a small picture of our future. The New Heavens and New Earth will be infinitely greater than this account but this is all we can understand for the time being and that, just barely.
Human Need Met
21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
When Jesus returns He will set up His eternal kingdom. All who oppose Him including Satan will be sentenced to the Lake of Fire.
John reports that the former order of things, the old universe and the old earth, will pass away. Planet earth and the entire universe will be remade and the curse of sin will be lifted and sin will be no more.
Then the new city called Jerusalem will descend from heaven to earth adorned in beauty. Such beauty John could not describe except to say that it was as beautiful as a bride looks to the groom.
Then comes the declaration from the angel… Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
This is the reality God has been waiting for. Finally, after all the sin and death God will have for Himself a people and we will have for ourselves the true God.
Jeremiah 32:37–41 (ESV)
37 Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.
Notice with me how in verse 4 God has to use negative language because we have no context to understand heaven at this point apart from things that won’t be there…
4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
We know these things in this fallen world all too well, don’t we? Never will a tear be shed in the new city. No death because there is no sin. No sickness and pain because there is no decay, because the old order (cursed earth) has died. The last thing to die will be death. Can you imagine a world like that?
Jesus goes on to declare His eternal credentials…He is the Alpha and Omega. He, then, goes on to say that the conqueror or as we’ve learned from the seven churches that the conqueror is the one who remains faithful to the end, will receive all these promises. But to the unfaithful, he will take his place in the Lake of Fire.
9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
The first thing we must see is that this city is made up of God’s people. 12 Tribes of sons Israel named and the 12 apostles named. This city embraces the covenant people of God…the true Israel made up of Israelites and Gentiles who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb who was worthy to open the scroll. Here is where so many get sidetracked, they say well how can it be twelve tribes and twelve apostles when there were 12 apostles and then Judas disqualified himself and Matthias took his place and then Paul comes along and calls himself and apostle so there is 13??? What God is showing John is that this great city is filled with God’s people.
Further imagery of this great city is also recorded for us in the Book of Ezekiel 40-42.
16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal.
John’s symbolism paints the picture of a city in the shape of a cube. Now, what I believe John wants us to see is not that the city is in the shape of a cube but wants us to see the city’s function.
There is only one other structure in the Bible with cube shape dimensions…The Holy of Holies…
Whether or not the dimensions are meant to be taken as physical geographical measurements, the key to interpreting this is seen as we understand that like the holy of holies in the temple which contained the presence of God, this entire city is the holy of holies containing the presence of God as Jesus Christ sits on His eternal throne ruling and reigning over the New Heavens and New Earth. This city is probably command central for Christ’s authority over all creation.
22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
The OT Temple served as the place where God’s people could come to meet with God in worship. Then, in the NT Jesus makes a very interesting declaration…
John 2:18–22 (ESV)
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
We have the concept very clearly given by Jesus that He is the temple. He is where we must come to have access to God. It is through Jesus that sinful man can come pure and clean to God.
This city is the fulfillment of the temple in Jerusalem. This entire city is the eternal holy of holies with Jesus enthroned.
This passage tells us that the sun is no longer needed because the light, and there will never be any darkness, comes from the glory of Jesus Himself.
If we back up we can see that John tells us there is no more sea…The sea, in Hebrew culture, stood for everything dangerous and harmful. When John says there is no more sea what he is getting at is that there is no danger in the New City. Here he goes on to tell us there is not darkness and that the gates will never need to be shut and bolted. In the ancient world darkness was the time when evil took place to be safe that’s also when the city gates were shut up and locked. Here, there will never be a time when the gates are shut.
The Bible tells us that no one can see God and live. But here, we will be changed. We will see God face to face in this great land the New Jerusalem.
We could go on examining all the intricate parts of this wonderful city. But I want to wrap up this morning by asking why is it that you think God gave us this section with all these glorious details?
First, God no doubt desires that we begin to think about what we have waiting on us when we get home. He wants us to see, even if it’s not entirely clear, what this great city is going to be like. God also, no doubt, desires to encourage us as we seek to persevere in the faith as we encounter difficulties in the current world.
I think it may go a little deeper than that.
Luke 12:32–34 (ESV) See also Matthew 6:21
32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
I’ve often heard these verses taught with the idea of guarding your heart. They taught that we are to be careful not to let our hearts become attached to the wrong things. But is this how Jesus says it works?
Isn’t Jesus really saying that wherever your treasure is, your heart follows? I believe one aspect of God showing us this grand picture of the new heaven and new earth and the New Jerusalem is to get us to think about it and to begin treasuring eternal things. As we become more and more captured by these images Christ and heaven become more and more our treasure and guess what automatically happens? There our hearts are too.
We become like those who longed for a home not built with human hands. We look at the things we currently are tempted to treasure and shake our heads and repent of being so short sighted.
I want to close by saying that whatever these images bring forth in your mind, multiply them by trillions and that still will not paint the picture accurately. The New Heavens and New Earth will take your breath away for all eternity. The New City Where King Jesus will live will be such an attraction to the world that all we will think about is our next visit…these trustworthy words are meant only for God’s people. Look at another picture this morning…the picture of the lost…
The Great Judgment Morning | Bertram H. Shadduck 1894
Sermon by D A Carson on the same text
Triumph of the Lamb by Dennis Johnson