Dr. Richard L. Strauss
August 26, 1979
Almost everybody likes to go home. Home for the believer is heaven. The Apostle Paul told us that: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from where also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20). Home! That's where we belong. Yet we have never been there. How strange that is! We've never seen our home! But we do know what it is like, because God has seen fit to give us a beautiful pen picture of heaven in His Word. It came to the Apostle John in a vision which he recorded in Revelation 21-22. It's maybe not all we'd like to know, but it is what God wants us to know about our home.
Heaven is a city. It's called the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2). God dwells there (Revelation 21:3). And Jesus Christ has prepared a place for us there (John 14:2-3). John saw the heavenly city descending from the sky to the new earth after the Millennium in his prophetic vision (Revelation 21:1-8). We described that descent as we studied John's introduction to the city in our last lesson.
There was the preparation for the city, in verse 1, the creation of a new heaven and new earth unaffected by sin and Satan, a suitable place for righteousness to dwell forever. Secondly, we saw the city presented in verse 2. In verses 3 and 4 we saw its provisions, the personal presence of the Lord, and the elimination of death, sorrow, crying and pain. John paused in the description to include a promise of abundant life and an eternal inheritance for those who would trust the Savior (verses 5-7). Then He reminded us that no person whose sins have not been forgiven by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ will enter the heavenly city (verse 8).
With this introduction complete, we are ready for a more detailed description of the heavenly city.
1. The Description of the Heavenly City
a. Heaven's Glory
While John saw the city descending in verse 2, he goes back briefly and explains how it all came to be. One of the seven angels responsible for the bowl judgments invited him to see this great city, which the angel calls the bride, the Lamb's wife (verse 9).
"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" (Revelation 21:9-11).
Here John sees a woman which symbolizes a city. What a strange parallel this is to the event of Revelation 17:1. There one of the same seven angels invited him to see a woman which also symbolized a city. But there the similarities cease. The first city is a harlot; it contained adherents of a false religious system, the apostate church. The second city is a beautiful pure bride; it contains true believers in Jesus Christ. Of course, while the city is called a bride, that has reference to the people in it. A city is composed of people. The Bride of Jesus Christ is in this city, and so the city itself is called by her name.
And so the angel transports John in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed him that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of the sky from the place where it had previously been. The first thing that impresses John about the city is its glory. See verse 11? "Having the glory of God; and her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal."
The glory of God is the sum and substance of all His attributes and perfections. When that glory is manifested, it usually appears as light--brilliant and radiant splendor. "God is light," wrote the Apostle John in 1 John 1:5, "and in Him is no darkness at all." He is pure, perfect, undiminished, unadulterated light. And His presence makes this city glow like a giant illuminated diamond. The Scripture uses the word "jasper" to describe it, but it is not the green opaque jasper we know, for the verse clearly says "clear as crystal."
The city reflects the glory of the Lord. It does not generate or produce that glory; it reflects it. You and I as believers right here and now are to reflect the glory of the Lord. We shall never do it as perfectly as this city does until we enter God's presence, but as we live in the presence of Jesus Christ, we will reflect His glory more and more each day (2 Corinthians 3:18). So while we're waiting to go home, we can be growing in the way we express the glory of God.
b. Heaven's Wall
Before we comment on this, let me say a word about how we ought to understand these details. Many have said that all this is figurative and symbolic, and must not be understood literally. To them, the concept that we shall dwell in a literal city with a wall, and gates, and streets paved with gold is absurd. I think we shall see as we move through this description that John is using terms he knows to describe things he has never really seen before. He is telling us what it looks like to him. I don't know what the streets of heaven are paved with. Gold, as we know it, is not like clear glass. So in a sense, we can agree that it may not be actual gold, for instance, as we know it.
But how can we possibly deny that God showed this vision to John to bring accurate knowledge of our eternal state, to bring comfort, encouragement, and anticipation as we meditate upon it? The intricate details, the careful descriptions, the actual measurements, and so on, make it difficult to dispute the fact that this is a literal city, made of literal materials. And these materials are described in such a fashion as to reflect the eternal spiritual realities we shall enjoy, to reveal in some manner the character of the people who inhabit this city, and the nature of their eternal existence. The materials may symbolized spiritual truths. But they are real materials and they make up a real city in which believers of all ages will someday dwell.
With that word of explanation, we turn to the wall. John described it as "great and high" in verse 12. According to verse 17 it is actually about 216 feet high, many times higher than the city wall of the average ancient city with which John was familiar. We don't know why God tells us exactly how high the wall is, but it's probably to remind us that no evil shall ever invade the city, nothing sinful shall ever enter.
There are twelve gates in the city wall, three on each wall (verses 12 and 13). And at each gate an angel stands guard. On each of the gates is inscribed the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, reinforcing the fact we established in the last lesson, that Old Testament saints as well as New Testament saints will inhabit this city. We don't know in what order the names appear, but there is a precedence that might tell us. Look at Ezekiel 48:31-38. This is the Millennial temple described here.
"The gates of the city shall be named after the tribes of Israel" (Ezekiel 48:31a). That's interesting. The Millennial city is going to be constructed like the eternal city. On the north will be gates for Reuben, Judah, and Levi; on the east side, one for Joseph, one for Benjamin, and one for Dan; on the south side, Simeon, Issachar, and Zebulun; and on the west side, Gad, Asher, and one gate for Naphtali (Ezekiel 48:31b-38). I don't know whether it will be the same in the eternal city but I thought the similarity was interesting.
The wall also has twelve foundations. "Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Revelation 21:14). This reminds us that the church of Jesus Christ will be here. Some Bible expositors envision these twelve foundations as lying on top of the other and extending all the way around the four sides of the city. Others seem to view them as lying side by side, three on each side of the city, much like the gates. The way they are numbered in verses 19-20 may favor the first view.
What we take away from this is that given the names of the tribes of Israel and the names of the apostles, people from both the Old Testament and New Testament ages will be there.
c. Heaven's Size
"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" (Revelation 21:15-16).
The angel who showed John all these things now measures the city so that we may gain some concept of its magnitude. The first thing mentioned is that it is square. It will be a perfect city, perfectly engineered, perfect architecturally. The length and the breadth are identical. Each dimension measured 12,000 furlongs. Now there is some small difference of opinion as to the exact length of a furlong, but just about every estimate places the size of this city somewhere in the general range of 1500 miles square. This is a fantastic size. It would be an area roughly speaking about half of the continental United States. And it is one solid city.
Some have tried to guess how many inhabitants it will have by comparing it to the population per square mile in one of our modern metropolis areas. I really do not think such speculation would be very accurate or profitable. It is quite obvious that it will hold a considerable number of people, the redeemed of all ages [see Wilbur Smith, The Biblical Doctrine of Heaven, p. 244]. That's encouraging to me. Jesus said the gate was narrow through which folks would enter into eternal life, but through the ages there are going to be a lot of people who find that narrow way and put their trust in Jesus Christ and be inhabitants of heaven.
Now, verse 16 tells us that the height is the same as the length and breadth, approximately 1500 miles. That is astounding. Some think this means that the city will be in the shape of a cube. Others believe it will be in the shape of a pyramid, which would just as well satisfy this Biblical description of the dimensions. The fact that the wall is only 216 feet high, while the city itself is 1500 miles high would seem to favor the pyramid theory. I don't know why God is going to build the city that way. If God is at the top and the stream flows from the throne of God, it will flow down, which may also support the pyramid theory. I can't explain all of these things; I wish I could but God told us just what He wanted us to know.
d. Heaven's Materials
We turn now to the materials of which the city is constructed. The wall, according to verse 18, is of the same material we saw back in verse 11, that luminous, transparent jasper. And the city itself is pure gold, like clear glass. Now we know of no such thing as pure gold like clear glass. Gold is not transparent. But John is using things we know to describe what we have never seen, and he must use ideas that appear contradictory in order to convey what he saw. Evidently the whole city is like a clear, sparkling jewel, with a gold hue to it. Notice the constant repetition of transparency, probably to emphasize the fact that every part of the city just glows with the glory of God.
The foundations of the city are each composed of a different precious stone. There are twelve of them. Again, these stones are probably not identical to the stones we know by these names today. [For pronunciation purposes: chalcedony (kal-sed'-eny), sardonyx (sar-don'-iks), chrysolite (kris'-a-lite), chrysoprasus (kris'-a-pra-sus).] We won't try to identify the color of each, but just mention that the emphasis seems to be just that: the color. John is trying to depict for us a scene of indescribable beauty, interwoven patterns of light and color, all of which reflects the infinite glory and majesty of God. This is going to be a great place to live! What a beautiful city.
The final notation about the materials of which the city is in verse 21. Each gate looks like a huge pearl with its soft satin glow further enhancing the beauty of the city. John adds that the street of the city was of pure gold, as it were, transparent glass (verse 21). While the word street is singular, it may stand for all the streets of the city.
The overall impression we get is one of purity, perfection, and unparalleled beauty--so unlike the cities John knew, and so unlike the cities we know today. Even our fair city of San Diego, considered by many to be America's most beautiful city, doesn't hold a candle to heaven. And then there's Los Angeles...ha! No smog in heaven, folks. No pollution. No filth. No crime. No immorality. Just purity and beauty. And when we get there we're not even going to mess it up, because God's going to make us perfect, too. That's the best part of all.
2. The Delights of the Heavenly City
We turn now to some wonderful characteristics about heaven which we shall call the delights of the heavenly city.
a. The Temple in Heaven
The first is a word about the temple in verse 22. "And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple."
Old Jerusalem was the city where the temple of the Jews stood. It was the center of worship for Jews in every part of the world. The New Jerusalem needs no building or religious ritual for worship. God and His Son, the Lamb, will be personally present. Intimate fellowship with Him in His very presence will be enjoyed. What else would we need for worship?
b. The Light in Heaven
There is no need for the sun nor the moon in the heavenly city. God, who is light, will be there. Jesus Christ, who proclaimed Himself to be the light of the world, will be there (John 8:12). With all that light, who needs lamps? Who needs sun? You and I will be there to enjoy that light in all its fullness some day.
Meanwhile, back on earth, where we dwell as temporary pilgrims, we are exhorted to let our lives be brought into conformity to it right now in this life, according to 1 John 1:5-7. Walk in the light. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Live consistently with the revelation of God that we have and understand.
c. The Worship in Heaven
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" (Revelation 21:24-26).
The mention of the nations in verse 24 has been used by those who believe these chapters describe the Millennium. But the word has no reference to political entities. It may mean simply "people" in a very general sense, or it may mean "Gentiles." "People" is most likely the proper translation. Some of them will have had authority and honor on earth. But all the honor and glory will be given to the Lord in the heavenly city.
The notation is made in verse 26 that the gates will never be shut because there will be no night there. The gates in an ancient city were always closed at sundown to protect the city against invasion during the hours of darkness. The gates of the heavenly city simply do not close. There is no night there. Our resurrection bodies will have no need of rest. We shall serve the Lord continually.
The constantly open gates also imply that we shall have freedom to leave the city and enter again at will. It is possible that we shall explore and enjoy all of God's new heaven and new earth. But the same thought of verse 24 is repeated again in verse 26: wherever the inhabitants of the city go, they shall bring all their honor and glory back into the city, and direct it to Him who is worthy of all honor and glory.
d. The Purity of Heaven
"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).
The open gates, and the exiting and entering, move John to reiterate what he has said before about who shall not be allowed to enter. Absolutely no one whose sins are not washed away by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ shall ever enter this city. If you remember, whoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire for eternity (Revelation 20:15). Contrary to what the universalists would have us believe, there is no escape from the lake of fire. They will be there forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). It's a sad thing for us to think about, but the fact remains that those who have had the opportunity and have not responded to the light God has given them will not be able to enter this city throughout the ages of eternity. But even in that, God will be glorified, because His justice and His righteousness will be revealed.
Those whose names are not written in the Lamb's Book of Life will not be permitted to enter. Boy, that brings us to a question, doesn't it? Is your name written there? It's written there indelibly if you've put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin.
e. The River of Life in Heaven
"And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Revelation 22:1).
Notice that Jesus Christ is still on the throne here. While the nature of His reign seems to change at the end of the Millennium, indicated by the reference in 1 Corinthians 15:24-25 where He gives up the kingdom to the Father. Yet it seems that He is going to continue to share that rule forever with the Father because He's here on the heavenly throne with Him.
And from Their throne there flows a beautiful, refreshing stream called the river of water of life. It must be there to picture the satisfaction and enjoyment that will be ours by virtue of our eternal life. We have just a little taste of it now in the person of the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39). Then we shall enter into its fullness. Will we actually drink of that refreshing stream? The Bible doesn't tell us. But I suppose if we'd like to drink of it, we will, because anything that brings joy and satisfaction to you in heaven will be available to you.
f. The Tree of Life in Heaven
God put a tree of life in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22, 24). But Adam and Eve evidently never ate of it. After they sinned, God cast them out of the garden, lest they eat of the tree of life, and sin become fixed in the human race forever. But glorified man, freed from all sin, may eat of the tree of life freely, indicating that this blessed state shall go on forever.
Notice the variety of fruit which the tree bears--twelve different kinds. The description of the tree as on either side of the river seems to mean that its branches extend over the river of life, or it may be row of trees on each side. We don't know for sure. And somehow, its leaves symbolize the healing of the nations, or peoples. This does not mean that we will have sickness that will need to be healed, for there shall be no more curse (Revelation 22:3a) and no pain or sorrow (Revelation 21:4), but rather that all earthly sickness and suffering will have ended. Just as wiping tears from our eyes in 21:4 meant that there will be no crying in heaven, so the leaves of the tree of life indicate that there is eternal health that we shall enjoy in heaven.
Isn't that great to know? No more illness. No more ulcers. No more operations. No more heart attacks. No more cancer. The tree of life and all that goes with it.
g. The Activity of the Redeemed in Heaven
What will we do in heaven? Sit around and twiddle our thumbs, lounge on a cloud, and play a harp? Hardly. We won't be uselessly idle in heaven; we're going to serve the Lord (verse 3). But that service will not be drudgery. There will be no exhausting toil nor grinding effort. Our service will be sheer delight.
Furthermore, we shall see His face (verse 4). We will have free and unhindered access to the very presence of God at all times. There we shall offer our adoration and worship. There we shall find all that our spirits have ever longed for. There we shall know even as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). We'll be able to ask all those questions about things we didn't understand here on earth.
Then we learn in verse 4 that He's going to put His name in our foreheads. There is the permanent mark of our eternal relationship with the Lord. We belong to Him, and we shall enjoy Him forever. The Antichrist put his mark upon his followers (Revelation 13:16-17), and they shall suffer with him forever (Revelation 20:10-15). Now the Lord puts His mark upon His children, which symbolizes that we shall live in rapturous joy forever.
In Revelation 22:5, the great fact of God's light is reiterated. There will be no need for lamp nor sun, for the Lord God will give us light. Then there follows in verse 5 one more statement of our eternal occupation: "And they shall reign forever and ever."
The Lord Jesus will reign for all eternity as King of kings and Lord of lords, and we shall reign with Him. God made man to have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28-31). That purpose was frustrated when Adam sinned. During the Millennium that rule was restored, and now we learn that it shall extend through all eternity. What are we going to rule over? I don't know. God doesn't tell us. But we will rule. The great prophecy of Daniel 7:18 will be fulfilled: "But the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever."
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Will you be among those saints? Are you a saint? That isn't someone who polishes his halo at night before he goes to bed. Rather, that is someone who has believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. You become a saint of God the moment you allow the Lord Jesus Christ entrance into your life, the moment you accept Him as your personal Savior from sin. That's when you're born into God's family, your sins are forgiven, and you are separated forever unto God. That's all a saint is: "one separated unto God."
Have you put your trust in the Lord Jesus? Have you received Him as your Savior from sin? If you have, heaven is your eternal home. If you haven't, the Word of God holds nothing out to you but torment and misery and unhappiness. As unpleasant as that may seem--as unpleasant as it is for me to have to tell it to you--it is the eternal, infallible Word of God. Will you believe God's Word? Will you trust God's Son as your Savior? Let's bow together in prayer.
Our heavenly Father, we thank You for the truth of Your Word and the encouragement and comfort and consolation of knowing Jesus Christ, and of knowing our eternity is secure in Him. Lord, we pray that if there are some today who have never made that decision and put their trust in the Lord Jesus, that John's penned picture of heaven may be all the encouragement they need. God, bring some, we pray, to faith in Jesus Christ, and we'll give You all the praise and the glory, for it's in His name we ask it. Amen.
Continue to RV-16: The Last Word