Dr. Richard L. Strauss
August 5, 1979
From as far back as Abraham, believing men have anticipated an eternal home with God, and they have thought of their heavenly home as a city. While the book of Genesis makes no clear mention of it, the inspired writer to the Hebrews declared concerning Abraham, "For he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10). This has no reference to an earthly city, as verse 16 reveals: "But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:16). God has a heavenly city for those who have put their trust in Him.
Expanding on this same theme in chapter 12, the author depicts all believers as having "come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels" (Hebrews 12:22). It has a name. It's the city of God. It's Mount Zion. It's the heavenly Jerusalem.
That city is anticipated in Revelation 3:12 for the true believers at Philadelphia. He holds out this glad promise: "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name." There, it is anticipated. Now as the canon of Holy Scripture is about to come to a close, God sees fit in His grace to describe the city for us in great detail--our heavenly home, the new Jerusalem.
Keep in mind that it has been God's purpose from the very beginning of His creation to dwell with men in perfect fellowship and communion. That purpose was delayed by sin; so the history of the human race has been the history of God's dealing with sin, and with the one who has power over sin and death, the devil. But God's purpose in time has been fully accomplished after the Great White Throne judgment at the conclusion of the Millennium (Revelation 20:11-15). Satan has been cast into the lake of fire. Death and hades have been cast into the lake of fire. Sin and unrepentant sinners have been dealt with for eternity. God is ready to unveil the eternal glory and bliss of those who belong to Him.
Revelation 21:1 through 22:5 describes heaven, the eternal dwelling place of the redeemed, called the holy city, or the new Jerusalem. In this lesson and in the next we shall note the descent of the heavenly city (Revelation 21:1-8), the description of the heavenly city (Revelation 21:9-21), and the delights of the heavenly city (Revelation 21:22--22:5). While there is some repetition and overlapping between these sections, these titles describe the general theme of each one. We shall confine ourselves in this lesson to the first, the descent of the heavenly city, which is in reality an introduction to the city.
1. The Descent of the Heavenly City
a. The Preparation for the City
John writes, "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" (Revelation 21:1).
Before the holy city can make its descent, some preparations must be made. This natural world has been defiled by sin. For thousands upon thousands of years it has been the center of activity for Satan and his demons, and they have relentlessly exerted their evil influence upon it. While they have been judged when we reach Revelation 21, the earth has nevertheless been affected by them, and is consequently not a fit location for God's holy city. Some physical changes were made at the beginning of the Millennium when the effects of God's curse on the earth were removed for that blessed period of time of righteousness and peace. But we noted when Satan was released at the conclusion of the Millennium, his evil influence on the earth was still apparent. Now every remnant and every remembrance sin must be destroyed. The earth must be purged by fire.
God is going to create a new heaven and a new earth as the scene for His holy city. Keep in mind that there are three heavens referred to in the Scriptures. One is the atmospheric heavens where the birds fly. The second is the celestial or stellar heavens, the natural universe. The third is the presence of God (2 Corinthians 12:2). When we read that God will make a new heaven and a new earth, it certainly has no relationship to the place of His abode. No sin has ever tainted God's home, and it does not need to be made new. We're talking about the atmospheric heavens here, and possibly the stellar heavens.
This is not the first reference in Scripture to a new heaven and a new earth. Isaiah twice made mention of them. God is speaking through the prophet and He says, "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind" (Isaiah 65:17). When we enter the new heaven and the new earth, we're not going to remember the old one. It will be so wonderful that we'll never even think of this one again.
"'For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,' says the Lord, 'So shall your descendants and your name remain'" (Isaiah 66:22). God's chosen people Israel will remain forever--believers from that nation--and so will the new heavens and the new earth. They will be eternal.
The Apostle Peter speaks of them in his second epistle. He says, "But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3:7). These heavens are going to be destroyed. They are reserved for fire. Beautiful earth. Beautiful skies. God says it's all reserved for fire.
Someday He's going to destroy it and He describes that in verse 10. "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:10-13).
All three of these passages seem to be in a Millennial context, and it has led many reputable Bible scholars to assume that the event before us in Revelation 21 occurs before the Millennium--but I don't think it does. It doesn't bother me at all that the prophets put this in a Millennial context because prophetic passages in the Scripture sometimes view events together in one verse that in actuality are separated by long periods of time. For instance, Christ's first and second comings are both mentioned in Isaiah 61:1-2 (see Luke 4:17-19), and yet we know that they are separated by thousands of years. The resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the wicked are mentioned in the same verse (Daniel 12:2), and yet we now know from reading Revelation 20 that they are separated by a thousand years.
The creation of a new heaven and new earth in conjunction with the Millennium does not necessarily place it before. There are so many indications in this passage of the eternal nature of things, that the case is conclusive. This is eternity. For instance, there is no more sea (Revelation 21:1) but the sea is referred to in many Millennial passages. There is no more death (Revelation 21:4) but we know that there will be death in the Millennium. The size of the city (Revelation 21:16-17) is wholly inconsistent with anything we find on earth during the Millennium. It flatly contradicts what Ezekiel says shall be here in the last nine chapters of his prophecy. The absence of the sun and moon (Revelation 21:23) is inconsistent with the Millennium. The presence of the tree of life and the river of life before Satan's final revolt would be unthinkable (Revelation 22:1-2). I mention all this to firmly emphasize the fact that we are here dealing with eternity.
There is some debate among Bible scholars as to whether the old heavens and earth are totally annihilated in preparation for the new, or simply renovated by fire. I don't really know. I have read fine expositors and good arguments on both sides, and I'm not sure it makes a great deal of difference. The point is, all remnants of sin are going to be removed. The remembrance of the earth as it was will be removed. God's creation will be pure and perfect, a fitting place for Him and His people to live and to fellowship throughout eternity.
And now that the necessary preparations have been made, we look at the presentation of the city.
b. The Presentation of the City
John sees the city descending out of heaven from God. "Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21:2).
Now I've made it quite clear in the message thus far that this city is heaven, and I believe that. I think the evidence is conclusive. What then does it mean when it says that this city is coming down out of heaven? How can it be heaven and come out of heaven? That sounds like double-talk. Not really. This is speaking of the sky: the stellar or the atmospheric heavens. John looks up and sees this heavenly city, the abode of God--the third heaven--descending before his very eyes out of the sky. What a fantastic sight it must have been. We've heard of flying saucers, but flying cities--and when we learn in our next lesson that its size is like a continent, it becomes all the more amazing.
I saw the holy city "coming down out of heaven from God." If this is the abode of God, then how can it be descending down from God? First of all, maybe we better establish that it is the abode of God before I try to explain that. In Revelation 21, read verse 3, and verses 22 and 23.
"And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them'" (Revelation 21:3).
"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" (Revelation 21:22-23).
God is there, you see. It is the abode of God.
And in Revelation 22, read verse 1, verse 3, and verse 4.
"And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Revelation 22:1). God's throne is there, so God must be there.
"And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face" (Revelation 22:3-4). We know God is there because His servants are there and His servants see His face.
So this is the abode of God.
What does it mean in verse 2, then, when it says it comes "from God"? "From God" seems to mean that this city is descending from where both God and the city were prior to this. Where it was, and where God was. Where that is we are not sure. I don't know where heaven is. Nor am I sure where it will be during the Millennium. Some visualize this city hovering over the Millennial earth like a satellite city, from which position it now descends after the Millennium. There is no evidence in the Scripture to prove either point of view. All we know is that it is going to come down from wherever it was, descending to the new earth.
And it is prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. That word "prepared" is revealing--a prepared city. Jesus used the same word in John 14:2-3 when He said, "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 unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also."
Evidently, the job is finished by Revelation 21. I believe that this city is our prepared place. He got it all ready for us. He came and got us before the Great Tribulation and took us to it. We had free access to it during the Millennium, wherever it was, while we ruled and reigned with Christ on earth. And now it is descending to the new earth--our prepared place, our eternal home.
And notice that it is prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. This is a bride city, so named because it is the home of the church, the bride of Christ. Some have assumed because the city is likened to a bride here and again in verse 9, that the church is the only occupant of the city. No, it most definitely has other occupants as well. When we note the names of the 12 gates in verse 12, we shall be convinced that the redeemed of the Old Testament are here as well as the redeemed of the New, for the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel are there inscribed. I believe Hebrews 12:22-23 gives us an exhaustive list of the inhabitants of the heavenly city.
"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Hebrews 12:22-23).
Angels, the church, God the Father, the spirits of just men made perfect--a beautifully accurate description of believers outside the church--and Jesus Christ our Savior is there, too (verse 24). So in addition to being the abode of the Godhead and angels, this city is the eternal home of all the redeemed from all ages. I'm going to be there. You're going to be there if you know Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin.
c. The Provisions of the City
"And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away'" (Revelation 21:3-4).
As John sees the heavenly city descending to the new earth, he hears a great voice out of heaven. This is the twenty-first time a "loud voice" or a "great voice" is mentioned in the book of Revelation, and, incidentally, it's the last time. For this great proclamation brings God's purpose in human history to its consummation and ushers in the eternal state. It introduces eternity. "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men."
The Old Testament tabernacle was the symbol of God's presence with His Old Testament people. His glory, the shekinah glory, hovered over it. But that was only a shadow of the glory and blessing of this eternal city. For God Himself shall dwell with His people forever. He is the tabernacle. The Greek word for "dwell" here is the verb form of the noun "tabernacle." "The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will tabernacle with them." This is the same verb used of the Lord Jesus in John 1:14, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (tabernacled among us)." But His glory was veiled in human flesh at that time, only to be revealed to his three closest companions on the Mount of Transfiguration. Now no veil hides that glory. He will tabernacle with men, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
Now note what God is going to do for His people. "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." What a blessed provision! Some have supposed as a result of this statement that there will be remorse in heaven for the failures of life, but that God will dry the tears. No! There will be no more remorse in heaven. The intent of that statement is revealed a few lines further down where we are told that there will be no more crying at all.
Tears are a common part of life here on earth, tears of sorrow, tears of grief, tears of pain, tears of suffering, tears of shame, tears of remorse, tears of disappointment, tears of fear or frustration. But there will be no cause for tears in heaven--every cause for crying will be removed, except joy, but then we will not express our joy in that way in heaven. Our resurrection bodies will not be made for crying.
The great voice goes on to enumerate some of those causes for crying that will be removed: death, sorrow, and pain are singled out for special mention.
Everyone has had contact with death at some time or other, some closer contact than others. Few experiences of life bring greater agony to the soul than the loss of a precious loved one. And if the Lord Jesus tarries, all of us will have to pass through the gates of death. But some day death is going to be destroyed. It will be the last enemy of God to be destroyed, according to 1 Corinthians 15:26, but we saw it cast into the lake of first in Revelation 20:14, never to lay its claim upon another victim.
And then there will be no more sorrow--not only sorrow over the loss of a loved one, but sorrow over the sins and shortcomings of our lives, sorrow over the disappointments we suffer from those we love. Sorrow will be something we never again experience once we enter our heavenly home.
The last thing mentioned in this verse is pain. The Lord has spared me from a great deal of pain to this point in my life, but He has certainly exposed me to a great deal in others. How helpless we feel, how totally frustrated, when we must stand by and watch others suffer, and there is nothing we can do. But it will never happen again for those who inhabit the new Jerusalem. "For the former things have passed away."
d. The Promise of the City
"Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.' And He said to me, 'Write, for these words are true and faithful.' And He said to me, 'It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son'" (Revelation 21:5-7).
We learn now for the first time that there is a throne in the city. The one who sits upon it calls himself Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end in verse 6. This is the same designation given to the Lord Jesus in Revelation 1:8 which leads us to believe that He is the one sitting on this throne. Possibly He shares it with His Father.
Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and Christ applies them to Himself to indicate that He was before all things, He existed from all eternity, He brought the old creation into existence, and He is the originator the new creation which shall last throughout eternity.
He speaks and says, "Behold, I make all things new." People today are looking for new things. They're tired of the old. Some even say that Biblical Christianity is old and needs to be reconstructed. Listen, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the most exciting thing there is. It's new and fresh, and someday Jesus Christ Himself is going to do away with all the old which is sinful, and sorrowful, and unsatisfying, and usher in a state of eternal perfection in which everything will be new.
He commands John to record these things for you and he wants you to know that this is true. These things will surely come to pass (verse 5). Will you be included in this heavenly home? He so wants you to be. That's why He pauses in this description of heaven to remind you of this precious promise: "I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts" (verse 6).
All we need to do is drink. That's a figurative expression for putting our trust in Him. He is referring to the absolute satisfaction, the bountiful and abundant blessing, that His eternal life affords. And all you need to do is acknowledge your need of it. Tell Him you're spiritually thirsty; there are longings within you that only He can satisfy.
This is the same promise He made to the woman of Sychar when He walked here on earth (see John 4:10, 13-14). It worked for her, and it will work for you. And if you will trust Him and receive Him as your Savior you will enter a select group known as the overcomers. The Lord promises that you shall inherit all things, and He will be your God, and you will be His son (verse 7).
e. The Prohibition of the City
We have seen that those who have accepted Jesus Christ and His offer of eternal life shall be in the city. But verse 8 tells us of some folks who will be prohibited from entering it.
"But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).
A first reading would lead us to believe that their plight is wholly on the basis of the evil deeds. But we must consider all the passages involved. Look at verse 27 in this chapter:
"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" (Revelation 21:27). That's the key. Are their names in the Lamb's Book of Life?
Turn over to Revelation 22:14, "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city."
If our evil deeds kept us out, none of us would be there because many of our deeds fit into this category in one way or another. But some who once fit into those categories trusted Christ for their eternal salvation. They've been forgiven, and they'll be there in heaven.
But those who have not trusted Jesus as their provision shall not be there. Their sin, followed by their disbelief or their neglect to trust Jesus Christ as Savior consigns them to eternal separation from this city. Any sin will. John mentions these:
Cowardly. Those who have been afraid to take a stand for Jesus Christ. Jesus said we have to confess Him before men. He wasn't kidding when He said that. True faith is not an undercover faith. It's a faith that's willing to express itself.
Murderers. Sexually immoral--fornicators. The meaning of those words is pretty obvious.
Sorcerers. Those who dabble in the occult, which is something that's trying to be made as very acceptable in our day. I read an article in the Times Advocate today that tried to paint occultism as an acceptable way of life. It is not acceptable to God. Oh, they put their finger on it. They said the reason it's not acceptable in this day is primarily because of orthodox Christians, and they got the term "born again" in there, too. You see, it's us "born again-ers" who make this thing unacceptable. Friend, if you're born again, just keep on making it unacceptable because it is unacceptable to God. It says "sorcerers." People who dabble in spiritism and demonism and occultism have no place in God's eternal city. God said that. I'm sorry it disagrees with the Times Advocate, I'm really sorry about that, but it's here nevertheless.
Sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
Those sins separate us from God because those who have committed those sins have refused to trust God's provision for those sins. Now let me make that very clear because people read this verse and they think, "Ack! I told a lie. I won't be able to go to heaven." No, that's not what the verse is saying at all. Let me say it again: For those who have trusted God's provision for sin (the shed blood of Jesus Christ), there is forgiveness, even of these sins. But these sins or any other sins keep us from heaven when we refuse to trust the Savior.
In other words, dear friends, there is no reason whatsoever why any person needs to suffer this eternal fate: separation from God's presence, exclusion from this eternal city. Jesus Christ died for our sins and if we will but trust Him, believe in Him, put our confidence and dependence in Him as our Sin-bearer and Savior, as our Deliverer from the guilt and the eternal penalty of sin, He forgives us and then shares with us His own eternal life.
Won't you trust Christ as your Savior from sin? You can be assured before you leave this building today that you will be an inhabitant in God's eternal city and enjoy the blessings and promises that He tells us about here. Let's pray.
Father, we do ask You that not one person who has heard this message will neglect to make the decision that settles and seals forever their occupancy in this eternal city. Lord, we pray that some who have never yet come to know Jesus Christ in a personal saving relationship may be willing to acknowledge their sin and place their trust in the Lord Jesus today, and be born anew. We ask it for His name's sake. Amen.
Continue to RV-15B: The Heavenly City (Part 2)