Long Island Conference: What WAS the Purpose of the End Times? (Part 2)


Yesterday I posted a video of a presentation I gave at Blue Point Bible Church last weekend as part of a conference on “the end times.” The theme of the conference was two-fold:

  1. What was the purpose of the end times?
  2. How do we walk worthy of the kingdom of God?

Yesterday’s post (Part 1) included my notes on the first half of the video where I addressed the first question, tracing John’s pattern of referencing the imagery of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) throughout the book of Revelation (e.g. 4:5, 8:5, 11:19, and 16:18; 1:6 and 12:14). John did this to show that “the end times” and “the last days” were bringing about the final transition from the old covenant age to the new covenant age during the first century AD.

This post (Part 2) includes the notes I used in the second half of my presentation, where I looked at Revelation 21:1 – 22:5 as a blueprint for how to walk worthy of God’s kingdom in the New Jerusalem. This part of the presentation begins around the 29:30 mark of the video.

[Revelation 21:2] New Jerusalem is God’s holy city, pictured as a bride.

  • This is not the first time that the people of God in Christ are pictured as a city.
  • Jesus said His people are a city set on a hill, the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).
  • The author of Hebrews told his readers that they had already “come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” (Heb. 12:22).
  • This was Isaiah’s prediction as well: “Also the sons of those who afflicted you shall come bowing to you, and all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet; and they shall call you The City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 60:14).

[Rev. 21:3] God dwells with His people, He’s with them, and He’s their God.

  • This fulfills a prophecy made by Ezekiel: “Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Ezekiel 37:26-27).
    • Don’t let anyone tell you that this isn’t true for the followers of Christ right now just because this was addressed to “the house of Israel.” We are the house of Israel, the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), because Jesus is true Israel and we are Israel with Him (Galatians 3:16, 29).
  • These truths are also repeated in Ezekiel 43:7, 48:35; II Corinthians 6:16, and elsewhere.

[Rev. 21:9] John sees the New Jerusalem as a bride, the Lamb’s wife.

  • He contrasts the bride with the harlot of Rev. 17, old covenant Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8).
  • Paul also contrasted two women in Galatians 4:21-31, where he portrayed one woman in slavery representing the old covenant and a free woman representing the new covenant.
  • Note the comparisons and contrasts in the following passages:
  1. Revelation 17:1: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.’”
  2. Revelation 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels which 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.’
  1. Revelation 17:3: “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wildernessand I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.”
  2. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountainand showed me the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

In Rev. 17:3, it’s likely that John was taken to a wilderness because it was in a wilderness that God established the old covenant with the Israelites. In Rev. 21:10, perhaps John was taken to a great, high mountain because of what God said He would do in the last days of the old covenant age:

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it” (Isaiah 2:2, Micah 4:1).

[Rev. 21:12-13] The new Jerusalem has a high wall with 12 gates, bearing the names of the 12 tribes of Israel; three gates each on the east, north, south, and west sides.

  • Isaiah 60:18, Ezekiel 48:30-35, Matthew 8:11, and Luke 13:29 depict the kingdom of God as a city with walls facing each direction, or with people entering in from all directions.
  • Sam Storms once made these comparisons between the writings of Ezekiel and John on this subject:

Ezekiel is taken to a high mountain by angel and sees a city (40.1-3). John is taken to a high mountain by an angel and sees a city (21.10). The first thing Ezekiel sees is the wall (40.5) that surrounds the city. The first thing John sees is the wall surrounding the city (21.12). The first gate Ezekiel sees is the ‘east gate’ (40.6). The first gate for John is the ‘east gate’ (21.13)… The City has ‘living waters’ in Ezekiel 47.1-ff. So does John (22.1-ff)…

 -Sam Storms, “A Reconstruction of the Millennium”

[Rev. 21:14] The city’s foundations bear the names of the 12 apostles.

  • This is strikingly similar to what Paul wrote to believers in Ephesus: “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, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

[Rev. 21:15-18] The new Jerusalem in John’s vision is cube-shaped, as was the holy of holies in Solomon’s temple (I Kings 6:20). The holy of holies was overlaid with pure gold, and the holy city in John’s vision is also entirely made of pure gold.

[Rev. 21:19-21] The foundations of the city walls are covered in precious gems.

  • This fulfills Isaiah 54:11-12 (“O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones”).
    • Paul clearly affirms that Isaiah 54 is about the church (Galatians 4:27).
  • These precious stones may represent all the spiritual blessings we are equipped with and enjoy today in Christ.

[Rev. 21:22-23] Jesus is the temple and the light of this city.

  • There is again evidence that John is drawing heavily from Isaiah 60, or at least receiving identical revelation to what Isaiah received, as they both describe the body of Christ: “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 an everlasting light, and your God your glory” (Isaiah 60:19).

[Rev. 21:24] The nations of those who are saved walk in the light of this city.

  • “The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3).
  • “The sons of foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you…” (Isaiah 60:10).
  • The body of Christ is richer when we fellowship with believers from various nations, cultures, races, and backgrounds.
  • It’s never been easier to do that than now, with instant, worldwide communication through Facebook, with the ability to travel halfway around the world in one day, with a melting pot of cultures here in our cities, etc.
  • The walls of the city of God are built up and strengthened as the people of God from different nations mingle, share with, help, and bless one another.

[Rev. 21:25-26] The gates of the city are never shut; the glory and honor of the nations come in.

  • “Then you shall see and become radiant, and your heart shall swell with joy; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you… Therefore your gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day or night, that men may bring to you the wealth of the Gentiles” (Isaiah 60:5, 11).

[Rev. 21:27] Only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life enter this city.

  • “Also your people shall all be righteous; they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified” (Isaiah 60:21).

[Rev. 22:1] A pure, clear river of water of life flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb.

  • “And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; in both summer and winter it shall occur” (Zechariah 14:8).
  • “Jesus answered and said to [the Samaritan woman at the well], ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life’” (John 4:13-14).
  • “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38).
  • “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

[Rev. 22:2] On both sides of the river is the tree of life, which bears different fruit each month. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. See Ezekiel 47:1-12.

  • Futurist eschatology says that Jesus will return in our future and there will be no more sin, suffering, etc., and that’s when Rev. 21-22 is fulfilled.
  • This picture in Rev. 22:2 shows the nations in need of healing. That time is right now, and we are the channels for that healing.

Recent Article in the Gospel Herald

Here is an example of Christ’s followers using leaves from the tree of life to heal the nations:

“Syrian refugees who fled predominantly Muslim countries amid ongoing war and terrorism are embracing Christianity and teaching their children about Jesus after experiencing firsthand the love and compassion of believers in Greece…

The ministry leader shared one particularly compelling story of how one refugee, who will go by the name of Saddam for security reasons, embraced Christianity after witnessing the kindness of the Christian aid workers. Saddam appeared to have been a man of authority and wealth in Syria, and told the ministry that he found out about them because everyone at the hotel where he was staying was talking about it. When he first arrived, he asked a ministry worker if he was a Christian or a Muslim. Uncertain of why he was asked such a question, the worker asked him why he wanted to know.

With tears streaming from his eyes, Saddam said, ‘I need someone to talk with me about Jesus.’ The workers summoned the ministry co-directors, and the Muslim man told them, ‘All the Muslim countries have turned their back to us. The Muslim nations have ripped us from our treasures. They taught us not to trust the Christians, and that they are liars. I come to Greece and I find myself in the best place with the best food for me and my children. I find love that I have never seen. Please teach me.'”

Leah Marieann Klett, Syrian Refugees Embracing Christ, Teaching Children About Jesus after Witnessing Love of Christians, Gospel Herald, March 15, 2016, http://www.gospelherald.com/articles/62914/20160315/syrian-refugees-embracing-christ-teaching-children-jesus-witnessing-love-christians.htm

  • Contrast this with what a seemingly popular preterist individual said on Facebook a few months ago: “There’s only one way to deal with the Muslim problem. Nuke them all! Nothing less than that will work.”
  • God is doing awesome things in the Muslim world right now, with amazing movements to Christ happening in various places. It’s been said that more Muslims have come to Christ in the last 15 years than in the previous 1400 years. What if God has brought Muslims to our cities on purpose so that we can build relationships with them and invite them to drink of the living waters of Christ?
  • Fulfilled eschatology might be the only school of thought that consistently believes that the healing of the nations is for right now. We should “own this message,” so to speak. How can we work together to see the nations of this world healed?

[Rev. 22:5] There’s no night in the city, and no need for a lamp. The people in the city will reign forever.

  • “Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you… 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 60:1, 20).
  • “Then those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).
  • “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father…” (Matthew 13:43).
  • “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life’” (John 8:12).
  • “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
  • “And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33).
  • “…and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father…” (Rev. 1:6).
  • We’re not waiting for a future millennium to start. We are called and equipped to rule and reign right now.

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I referenced three other speakers during my presentation. Here are two of those videos:

[1] Daniel Colon – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49c-hecPH6c

[2] Johnny Ova – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zr8IZnj4yk0

(Jason’s presentation is not yet available.)

There was also a debate on the second night of the conference which you may be interested in viewing. It was between Michael Miano (a preterist) and Stephen Whitsett (a futurist): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPtYL76KbZs

On the last day of the conference, there was a roundtable discussion where members of the audience were able to ask questions for us to answer. I participated in that roundtable and here is that video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsnEooTpP78

All of the videos from this conference will soon be made available at this link: http://www.powerofpreterism.com/preterism-.html

The New Testament Repeatedly Applies Isaiah 65-66 To This Present Age


Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the Book of Revelation”

This post serves as a follow-up to my last post, “We Now Live in the New Heavens and the New Earth” (which explored Matthew 5:17-18, Matthew 24:35, II Peter 3:7-13, portions of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and more). There is one Scripture text on the subject of the old/new heaven and earth which I didn’t explore in that post: 

And 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. 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, and God Himself will be with them and be their God‘” (Revelation 21:1-3).

We do, however, have a detailed study on this text in our series on the book of Revelation. In that study we highlighted an excellent observation made by Steve Gregg in his book, “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).”  

Revelation 21:1

Isaiah 65-66 clearly provides a background to Revelation 21:1, most notably Isaiah 65:17-19 and 66:10-13, 22.

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. but be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people; The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying” (Isaiah 65:17-19).

“‘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).

Gregg shows that this portion of Isaiah is not awaiting future fulfillment — not according to Jesus, Luke, John, and Paul. On page 489 of his book, Gregg writes,

“[The] specific promise of ‘new heavens and a new earth,’ found exclusively in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22, fall within a portion of Isaiah which New Testament writers applied to the present age.”

On page 506, Gregg gives the following comparisons to illustrate what he is saying here:

[a] Isaiah 65:23 with I Cor. 15:58
[b] Isaiah 65:25 with Luke 10:19
[c] Isaiah 66:1f with I Tim. 3:15
[d] Isaiah 66:8 with Gal. 4:26
[e] Isaiah 66:11 with Matt. 5:6
[f] Isaiah 66:12 with John 14:27
[g] Isaiah 66:15f with Matt. 22:7
[h] Isaiah 66:18 with Matt. 8:11
[i] Isaiah 66:19 with Eph. 3:8 and Col. 1:27
[j] Isaiah 66:20 with Rom. 15:16

Let’s observe these comparisons in the form of a chart, and with these passages written out:

Passages from Isaiah 65 – 66
Corresponding New Testament Passages
“They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth children for trouble; For they shall be the descendants of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them” (Isaiah 65:23).
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58).
“’The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 65:25).
“Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Luke 10:19).
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?’” (Isaiah 66:1)
“…but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15).
“Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children” (Isaiah 66:8).
“…but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:26).
“…that you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom, that you may drink deeply and be delighted with the abundance of her glory” (Isaiah 66:11).
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; On her sides shall you be carried, and be dandled on her knees” (Isaiah 66:12).
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
“For behold, the Lord will come with fire and with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire” (Isaiah 66:15).
“But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city” (Matthew 22:7; see also Matt. 16:27-28, II Thess. 1:6-8, Jude 14-15).
“For I know their works and their thoughts. It shall be that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory” (Isaiah 66:18).
“And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11; see also Acts 2:5-12).
 “I will set a sign among them; and those among them who escape I will send to the nations: to Tarshish and Pul and Lud, who draw the bow, and Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off who have not heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they shall declare My glory among the Gentiles” (Isaiah 66:19).
“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…” (Ephesians 3:8); “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
“’Then they shall bring all your brethren for an offering to the Lord out of all nations, on horses and in chariots and in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,’ says the Lord, ‘as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the Lord” (Isaiah 66:20).
“…that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:16).

So we can see that Isaiah was given a vision of the coming new covenant age, the age in which we now live, and the fiery passing away of the old covenant age (I believe this occurred in 70 AD with the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem; see especially II Peter 3:7-13). Kenneth Gentry adds these thoughts on this subject:

“Isaiah’s prophecy clearly portrays the coming new covenant order established by Christ, which Paul calls a ‘new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; cp. Ephesians 2:10; 4:24… We know that Isaiah was not speaking of the consummate order, for he includes aspects of the present fallen order in his description: ‘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‘ (Isaiah 65:20). The eternal order will not include infants, death, aging, and curse.”

Kenneth Gentry, “Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues,” GoodBirth Ministries: Fountain Inn, SC, 2009, p. 169.

Presbyterian Pastor David Lowman agrees, saying:

“[It] is best to understand the NHNE [new heavens and new earth] covenantally as a picture of the promised New Covenant that finds origination in the Old testament, institution in the Gospels, unfolding in the [book of] Acts and explanation in the rest of the New Testament.”

Revelation 21:2

In Revelation 21, John goes on to speak of New Jerusalem, “the holy city,” coming down out of heaven as Christ’s bride. Recall the promise that Jesus made to the first century church in Philadelphia:

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God. Never shall he go out of it, and 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 from My God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Rev. 3:12).

The temple of which Christ spoke, of course, is the Church:

“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building (I Corinthians 3:9).

“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (I Cor. 3:16-17).

“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (I Cor. 6:19)

“And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people'” (II Cor. 6:16).

“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, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-21).

The author of Hebrews not only refers to the heavenly Jerusalem as a reality in the first century, but he also equates it with the new covenant:

“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, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Revelation 21:3

Before concluding, let’s look briefly at one more proof that Revelation 21 is speaking of this present age. In verse 3, God declared that His tabernacle would be with men, and that He would “dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” This promise was first given in Exodus 29:45 and Leviticus 26:11, but it was conditional, only to be true as long as the Israelites walked in His statutes and kept His commandments (Lev. 26:3). In Revelation 21:3, this promise is unconditional.

Revelation 21:3 mirrors the description of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34, and identical language is also used in Ezekiel 37:27-28, a passage connected to the new covenant promises in Ezekiel 36:24-28. In Ezekiel’s own vision of a holy city, he was told that this city would be the place where God would dwell with His people (Ezekiel 43:7, 48:35). As we already observed above, Paul quoted Exodus 29:45 and Leviticus 26:11 as a present reality for the Church in his own day (II Corinthians 6:16).

Conclusion

Revelation 21 applies Isaiah 65-66 to the present new covenant age in which we now live. However, it does not carry out this application alone. As we have seen, multiple New Testament authors have done the same. What a blessing it is to live under the new heavens and the new earth.

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Our study on the entire chapter of Revelation 21 can be seen here (verses 1-4 and verses 5-27).

Revelation Chapter 21 (Part 2: Verses 5-27)


REVELATION 21 (Part 2: Verses 5-27)

Adam Maarschalk: February 3, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 21:1-27

Introduction: In the previous post, we covered the first four verses of Revelation 21, giving special attention to the imagery of a new heaven and a new earth (“for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”), and the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. Our conclusion is that John was being shown the final transition from the Old Covenant age to the New Covenant age (exclusively and in fullness) in 70 AD. In other words, the New Jerusalem came down from heaven at that time, and is a present reality now, just as the author of Hebrews also said (Heb. 8:13; 12:22-24). The events of 70 AD demonstrated decisively that the kingdom no longer belonged to the Jewish nation, but to the holy nation created at Pentecost (Matt. 21:43-44, I Peter 2:4-10; cf. Daniel 7:22, 27), made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers who enter God’s kingdom on an equal basis.

It is recommended that one read Part 1 of our study of Revelation 21 before proceeding here, in order to have a basis for what is to follow. We will now continue with our study, picking things up in verse 5. We will be relying much on Steve Gregg’s commentary on this chapter.

Verse 5: The One on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…” While the literalist position most often takes this statement to refer, along with the rest of the chapter, to a future physical new heavens and earth, this can also quite naturally be understood as a reference to the same truth which is articulated in II Corinthians 5:17. This verse reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” As believers submitted to Christ, every area of our lives should experience renewal. Even as this is true on a personal level for each believer, it’s also true in terms of the New Covenant. In the book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” Steve Gregg writes (p. 491):

The language of these verses also can apply to the passing away of the old covenantal order, which has been so completely replaced by the new order that God commands His people: “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I will do a new thing” (Isa. 43:18-19). No place remains for the old covenant, as the writer of Hebrews explains: “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13).

Verses 6-7: The text here reads, “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. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be His God and he will be My son.’” Is this a present reality, or a future reality to be experienced in the eternal state? Steve Gregg reminds us (p. 491):

[T]he promise, I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts (v. 6), is clearly the same as that made twice by Jesus in John’s Gospel (cf. John 4:10, 14; 7:37f). Also, the phrase He who overcomes (v. 7) is characteristic of the phraseology in the promises made by Christ in the letters to the seven churches (cf. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).

The one who overcomes receives this promise: “and I will be His God and he will be my son.” A similar promise is given in II Corinthians 6:18, a passage speaking of the Church as the temple of the living God. There we read: “and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty.” This present position as God’s children is also spoken of in Romans 8:15-17. Kenneth Gentry, in his latest book “Navigating the Book of Revelation,” adds:

John is encouraging the beleaguered first century saints to hold on through their trials: Once Jerusalem falls, they will complete their entry into the final redemptive-historical order which has been gradually dawning since the time of Christ (John 4:21-23). As the writer of Hebrews puts it: Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28 NIV; cf. Heb. 8:13). Or as Paul expresses it in the mid-50s: “And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:11-12) – a reality worthy of enduring persecution.

Jesus promises His disciples that some of them will live to see the kingdom’s final establishment in power: “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1). Thus in Revelation 21 John paints nascent, post-A.D. 70 Christianity – now finally separated from Judaism – in glowing terms, as a firmly established, glorious reality (p. 167).

Verse 8: This verse reads, “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 of fire that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Steve Gregg notes that many scholars have equated “the cowardly” with apostates “who defect from the gospel rather than enduring hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ,” in contrast to those “who overcome” (v. 7).

We also saw a reference to the lake of fire and the second death in Revelation 20:14, with regard to the Great White Throne Judgment. This is where, according to that passage, death and Hades was to be thrown, along with anyone whose name was not found in the book of life (Rev. 20:15).[1]

Steve Gregg makes a very interesting observation at this point. Speaking of the preceding 8 verses in relation to the rest of the final two chapters, he observes (p. 492):

One way of understanding the structure of these final chapters is to see this whole segment (vv. 1-8) as an outline or summary of the remaining portion of the book. A remarkable correspondence exists between the progression of thought in these first verses and in the remaining chapters.

Compare, after the introductory statement in verse 1:

CONTENT

In Verses 1-8

In the Remainder

New Jerusalem Verse 2 21:9-21
God dwells among men Verse 3 21:22-27
Renewal of the world Verse 5a 22:1-5
“These words are true and faithful” Verse 5b 22:6-10
Work completed: “I am Alpha and Omega” Verse 6a 22:11-15
Final blessing: water of life to all who thirst Verses 6b – verse 7 22:16-17
Final curse upon the rebellious Verse 8 22:18-19

Verse 9: John is now taken to see “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” by one of the same seven angels who held the bowl judgments. Steve Gregg notes (p. 493) that one of these same angels—perhaps even the same one—had also taken John to see the great harlot in Revelation 17:1: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.’” He says that this “provides a structural link, deliberately placing the harlot in juxtaposition with the bride.” We made the same observation in our study of chapter 17, comparing the language of these two texts as follows:

A. Revelation 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels which 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.’”

B. Revelation 17:3: “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.”

B. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

Earthly Jerusalem and the Old Covenant temple system are thus contrasted with heavenly Jerusalem and the New Covenant (cf. Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrews 12:18-28). On the different destinations to where John was taken in these two visions, Steve Gregg comments: “The bride-city is elevated upon a mountain, ‘beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth’ (Ps. 48:2), while the harlot city is situated in a barren wasteland.”

Verses 10-11: The descending of “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” was also shown to John in verse 2. Steve Gregg comments on the significance of her attire:

Here, the attire of the bride is seen to be her having the glory of God (v. 11). The Shekinah that once rested upon the temple in earthly Jerusalem has departed from that institution and come to alight upon the church, the new temple of the Holy Spirit and the new City of God. The inheritance and hope of the New Testament believer is the hope of obtaining the glory of God (Rom. 2:7; 5:2; 8:18; Col. 1:27; I Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 2:14; Heb. 2:10; I Pet. 5:1, 10). This speaks of the likeness of Christ Himself seen upon His people (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; 2 Pet. 1:19; I John 3:2).

The light radiating from the glorious bride-city is compared to the radiance of a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal (v. 11), which probably refers to a diamond. The believing remnant is likened to jewels in the Old Testament. In Malachi 3:16-17, it is said of those who fear the Lord and meditate on His name, “‘They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I make them My jewels.’” The context in Malachi [3:16-4:6] suggests that the reference is to the Jewish believers in Christ, who escaped the desolation of the capital city in A.D. 70. In this place also some find grounds for seeing the bride as the surviving church at the time of the destruction of the Jewish polity.

Verses 12-13: This text reads, “It [the New Jerusalem] 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—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.” Steve Gregg comments (p. 494),

The city is described as surrounded by a great and high wall (v. 12). This is applicable to the church as a spiritual city even today. In speaking of the spiritual Jerusalem, God predicted “and you shall call your walls Salvation” (Isa. 60:18), and “I…will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst” (Zech. 2:5). If Salvation is the wall—indeed, God Himself is the wall—of the city, then the city and its wall appear to be spiritual in nature. This would be a figurative means of expressing the reality of the believer’s security in the City of God.

The wall of the city has twelve gates (v. 12) which have written upon them the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. In Isaiah, the same passage that calls the city’s wall “Salvation” goes on to say, “And your gates [shall be called] Praise” (Isa. 60:18). The most important of the twelve tribes was Judah, whose name means “Praise.” In Isaiah, the city’s gates are named after this tribe; in Revelation, the gates bear the names of all twelve tribes. There may be no conflict here, since in Judah, that is, in Christ, who is of that tribe, all the “twelve tribes” of the spiritual Israel are included. The attachment  of the tribal names to the gates may suggest that through Israel God made a way for the world to enter the City of God, for “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Of course, this is only another way of saying that salvation is through Jesus Christ, who sprang from the Jewish race…

Another observation concerning the 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel is that this parallels Ezekiel’s vision, where he saw the same thing (Ezekiel 48:30-34). Gregg continues,

It is expedient that there should be three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west (v. 13), to speak of the universal access into the church, for Jesus predicted that “They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).

In the passage just quoted from Luke 13, we should note that just before Jesus said these words, He also said to the unbelieving Jews that they would be cast out of the kingdom of God and would experience weeping and gnashing of teeth while the patriarchs, prophets, and many Gentiles would find entrance. This mirrors what Jesus said in the Parable of the Tenants (Matt. 21:43-44; cf. Matt. 22:1-14).

Verse 14: This verse reads, “And the walls of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Steve Gregg’s commentary on this verse is very insightful (p. 494):

Further evidence for identifying the city with the church is seen in the city foundations that have upon them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (v. 14). This detail communicates pictorially what Paul said more directly, that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). This is the city for which Abraham looked: “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).

Duncan McKenzie likewise says, “A physical structure (a city) is being used here as a symbol to portray the totality of God’s people, just as God’s people are likened to a physical structure (a temple) in Ephesians 2:19-22—notice that both “structures” are built on the foundation of the apostles (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14).”

Verse 15: Here we read, “And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.” Steve Gregg again comments (pp. 494-495):

The measuring of the city, its gates, and its wall (v. 15) recalls Ezekiel 40:3, where an angelic messenger carried a measuring line and a reed to measure the gates and walls of “something like the structure of a city” (Ezekiel 40:2) and the temple in it. It seems likely that this vision corresponds to that of Ezekiel, although premillennialists generally apply Ezekiel’s to the Millennium and this one to the state of things after the Millennium.

We should note that a major difference between Ezekiel’s account and John’s account here is that (as we will see) there is no temple in John’s vision. Ezekiel, on the other hand, goes into great detail in describing the temple he sees in his vision [In Philip Mauro’s classic work in 1922, “The Hope of Israel,” he noted that the promises given through Ezekiel were conditional (e.g. Ezekiel 43:9-11), and that these visions had to do with the return from the Babylonian captivity some five centuries before Christ with some foreshadowing also of Christ and the coming Church age].

Verses 16-21: We are now given the physical description of the holy city. Futurists, and premillennialists in particular, see this as a literal description of a future, physical city to be enjoyed during the eternal state following Christ’s millennial reign. On the other hand, as we will see, there is Scriptural warrant for seeing this description as depicting with rich symbolism the glories of the New Covenant church in this present age. Here is the text at hand:

The city lies foursquare; its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia [about 1380 miles]. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. 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, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 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, transparent as glass.

One key comparison to take note of is the fact that the holy city in John’s vision is cube-shaped, just as the holy of holies in Solomon’s temple was (I Kings 6:20). The holy of holies was overlaid with pure gold, while the holy city in John’s vision is entirely made of pure gold. What follows is Steve Gregg’s commentary on these verses, found on pages 495-496 of his book:

[VERSES 16-17] Since John sees no temple in the city (v. 22), we may imply that the whole city is the temple, or more specifically, the holy of holies. It is the place of the glory of God (cf. v. 11). This is the place of God’s residence (Eph. 2:20-21; I Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6; I Pet. 2:5), where God communes with men. Earlier [Rev. 11:1-2], John had measured the holy of holies (the naos) for its protection and preservation. In this vision, the naos is again measured, indicating its permanence, but it is now identified with the City of God, the church of Jesus Christ.

Part of the adorning of the bride is her jewelry… The walls, foundations, and gates are all made of great gemstones. This harks back to a prophecy of the Old Testament concerning the church: “O you afflicted one, tossed with the tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones” (Isa. 54:11-12). [Steve Gregg’s endnote: That the church is here pictured seems a necessary conclusion to be drawn from Paul’s quotation of the first verse of the chapter in Galatians 4:26-27 and his application of it to the Gentiles of the New Covenant church.]

[VERSE 18] (T)he city itself was of gold, so thoroughly purified as to become transparent. This is an image used to describe the refined character of the sanctified believer (Job 23:10; Zech. 13:9; Mal. 3:3; I Pet. 1:7; Rev. 3:18).

[VERSES 19-20] The twelve gems comprising the foundations call to mind the twelve gems worn upon the breast of the high priest, though again the individual stones are not identical (cf. Ex. 28:15-21). Since these same stones bear the names of the twelve apostles, it could be understood as a statement about the leadership of the people of God having transferred from the high priesthood of the temple to the apostles of the church.

[VERSE 21] There may be symbolic significance to the fact that the twelve gates were twelve pearls (v. 21). Unlike the previously named gems, pearls are created organically. A rough grain of sand irritating the tissues of the oyster causes the secretion of a substance that transforms the source of irritation into a pearl. The pearl thus may stand for affliction turned to benefit, even as silver and gold refined by fire are used in Scripture for the same concept. The gates are the means of entry into the city. If the pearl is understood in this light, we have a picture of one of Paul’s preaching themes: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

In Scripture a way of life is frequently called a path, a way, a highway, or a road (e.g. Prov. 4:18; Isa. 35:8). Therefore it is reasonable to understand the street of the city (v. 21) as representing the way of life of those who comprise the New Jerusalem. This street was pure gold, like transparent glass, which speaks of the godly character and behavior that comes from enduring the refining fires of tribulation.

Verses 22-27: John continues to describe what he observes concerning the heavenly Jerusalem:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 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. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 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.

Steve Gregg’s commentary again follows, including a most helpful chart comparing this portion of Revelation 21 with a corresponding portion of Isaiah 60 (pp. 496-497):

On the statement, I saw no temple in it, [J. Stuart] Russell writes: “Some of the features [of this vision] are evidently derived from the visionary city beheld by Ezekiel [chapters 40-48]; but there is this remarkable difference, that whereas the temple and its elaborate details occupy the principal part of the Old Testament vision, no temple at all is seen in the apocalyptic vision—perhaps for the reason that where all is most holy no one place has greater sanctity than another, or because where God’s presence is fully manifested, the whole place becomes one big temple.” Rather than going to a particular place to worship and appearing before God “in the sanctuary,” today one needs only be found “in God” or “in Christ” to worship acceptably, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (v. 22).

A helpful way of treating this segment is to look at it alongside an Old Testament passage with which it coincides. Compare the details point-by-point with Isaiah chapter 60:

Isaiah 60

Revelation 21

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…light (v. 19) The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it for the glory of God illuminated it (v. 23)
The Gentiles shall come to your light (v. 3) The nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light (v. 24)
Kings shall minister to you (v. 10); the glory of Lebanon shall come to you (v. 13) The kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it (v. 24)
Your gates shall be open continually…not shut day nor night (v. 11) Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there) (v. 25)
The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you (v. 5) They shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it (v. 26)
Also your people shall be all righteous (v. 21) There shall by no means enter it anything that defiles (v. 27)

In Isaiah 60, all of this is precipitated by the dawning of the glory of the Lord in a glorious new day (Isa. 60:1-3). This day was seen to dawn with the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus (cf. Luke 1:76-78; Matt. 4:13-16). Both passages then would appear to speak, albeit in symbolic terms, of the realities of the New Covenant age. The coming of the Gentiles into the church and the submission of kings to Christ has been in progress for nearly two thousand years now.

These facts alone (those highlighted in the paragraph above) would seem to be conclusive proof that these prophecies found here simply cannot be said to await a future dispensation or realm, but are indeed realities which have characterized the Church for nearly 2000 years.

This brings us to the end of the chapter, in terms of looking at it verse-by-verse. In this post, we have noted several parallels with the book of Ezekiel. This is actually a very common pattern with the book of Revelation, and numerous scholars have recognized that John borrows much from—or alludes much to—Ezekiel. Just for fun, here is a brief summary from Pastor Sam Frost of some of the parallels between Revelation 21 and various visions of Ezekiel:

Ezekiel is taken to a high mountain by angel and sees a city (40.1-3). John is taken to a high mountain by an angel and sees a city (21.10). The first thing Ezekiel sees is the wall (40.5) that surrounds the city. The first thing John sees is the wall surrounding the city (21.12). The first gate Ezekiel sees is the ‘east gate’ (40.6). The first gate for John is the ‘east gate’ (21.13). Ezekiel sees the East, North (40.20-23) and the South (40.24-27), in that order. John follows the same order: ‘From the East gates, three; and from the North gates, three; and the South gates, three’ (21.13). One omission: Ezekiel does not mention a West gate, but John does.

Each gate/alcove for John and Ezekiel are ‘three’ (21.13; cf. 40.10). Each are being measured (21.15-ff; cf. 40.10-ff). John then measures the city itself and its foundations. Here, Ezekiel goes into the city and sanctuary and begins measuring their dimensions.

Obviously, Ezekiel’s vision is much more detailed that John’s. Nonetheless, the pattern is there, plainly. Each gate (four in all, with three alcoves, giving a total of 12) are named after the tribes of Israel (Ez 48.31-ff). Same as John (21.12). The City has ‘living waters’ in Ezekiel 47.1-ff. So does John (22.1-ff). I can expand the list, but we would be here a little longer. By now, you ought to get the point.

Before we bring this post to a close, and by way of review, the following is a selected outline of Kenneth Gentry’s reasons[2] for seeing a first-century fulfillment of the vision of Revelation 21. My numbering of Gentry’s points is a bit different than his own numbering, as I have left out certain points for the sake of brevity:

[1] The flow of Rev’s drama expects the immediate appearance of the New Jerusalem bride (21:2). John’s theme involves Christ’s judging Israel (1:7), which leads to the destruction of old, historical Jerusalem (under the image of Babylon…). Once the old city is destroyed in AD 70 we should expect the New Jerusalem to take its place. Indeed, the NT declares the heavenly Jerusalem is already present in Christianity, as over against Judaism (Gal 4:26; Heb 12:22; cp. vv 18–21).

[2] Per the “unanimous agreement among scholars” (Mathewson, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 33; cf. Beale, Revelation, 1041), John’s immediate source material is surely Isa 65:17–20 (cf. LXX). Isaiah’s prophecy portrays the coming new covenant order established by Christ (cp. 2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10; 4:24). As Young (Isaiah 3:514) explains: “Heaven and earth are employed as figures to indicate a complete renovation or revolution in the existing course of affairs. With the advent of the Messiah the blessing to be revealed will in every sense be so great that it can be described as the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.”

[3] The coming down of the new Jerusalem (21:2) leads to the loud proclamation from God’s throne: “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.” This transpires in the first century, as a result of Christ’s work and his pouring out God’s Spirit. Paul writes in 2Co 6:16: “We are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

[4] …The promise of the water of life without cost reflects Isa 55:1 and the offer of salvation, which is related to the redemptive-historical order established by Christ in the first century. In his Gospel John speaks of the water of life flowing from Christ during his incarnation (4:10–14) and promises its fuller flow at his exaltation (7:38–39; cp. Ac 2).

[5] The twelve foundation stones of the city in 21:14 picture the historical church, which Paul presents as already “having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20).

[6] …John writes in 21:22: “And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple.” This suggests a first century reality, for with Christ’s coming and death the temple is rendered unnecessary (Mk 15:38//; Jn 4:21; Ac 17:24; Heb 8:13), for he is the temple (Jn 2:19–21; Eph 2:19–20) and is greater than the physical temple (Mt 12:6).

[7] That “the nations shall walk by its light” (21:24a) suggests that the nations as separate national entities still exist. Thus, historical conditions still prevail, rather than radically new, eternal conditions of perfect union and the fading of all distinctions.

[8] The city is not a purely consummational phenomenon, for the “unclean” and he “who practices abomination and lying” are not allowed in (21:27). This implies a pre-Judgment setting, where sinners still exist. In fact, the city contains the “tree of life,” which produces leaves “for the healing of the nations” (22:1–2). This also requires conditions subsisting prior to the eternal order. The healing of the nations obviously suggests conversion. John even declares the continued existence of “dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (22:15), though they are “outside” of the city. Presumably they are the targets of evangelism, for whom the healing leaves of the tree of life exist. (pp. 2-3)

Summary Statement: “So there you have it! John is picturing the glory of new covenant Christianity, which arises from the fallen ashes of collapsed Judaism (cp. Matt 8:11–12; Heb 8:13).”

An Invitation for Feedback

It seems that this is as good a place as any to pose a question I’ve been wishing to resolve for some time. I have no dogmatic position on this as of yet, and would love to have some thoughts/feedback. My question is this: What is the significance of Hebrews 9:8-10, if any, to Revelation 21? This passage in Hebrews reads as follows:

By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

Rightly or wrongly, I’m linking this passage to Revelation 21 since, as we noted when looking at verse 16, the cube-shaped holy city in John’s vision replaces the cube-shaped holy of holies of the Old Covenant temple (I Kings 6:20). Among my suppositions and considerations are these:

[1] Unless there is a tense error in the English Standard Version from which I quoted this text in Hebrews 9, the first century readers seem to have been told that the way into the holy places was not yet opened in their day, but that it would be opened once the first section no longer stood. This “first section” was spoken of in Heb. 9:6, and is a reference back to Numbers 28:3 where we see a prescription for the regular offering of two male lambs without blemish. Does Heb. 9:8 mean that the first section must no longer physically stand (a reality accomplished only in 70 AD), or simply that it must no longer stand as covenantally significant (a reality accomplished at the cross)?

[2] By the phrase “the present age,” I understand the author of Hebrews to mean the Old Covenant/Judaic age which ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple at the hands of the Romans (see this post here for “a discussion of two ages”). [By the way, if “the present age” is understood—as it popularly is—to mean this present church age, then is “the way into the holy places” still not opened, even in our day? Of course it is. Or is there indeed a tense error in this quoted passage? Curiously, in the ESV the past tense is used in verses 1-5, but the present tense is used in verses 6-10. I’m not so sure that it should be this way. This whole passage may even refer to the wilderness tabernacle, and thus have nothing to do with 70 AD except for the mention of “the present age.”]

[3] The phrase “the time of reformation” I would understand to refer to Christ’s work on the cross, for it was surely this work which brought an end to the imposing of “food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body…”

[4] I want to be careful not to assign any significance to the events of 70 AD which is instead properly assigned to the cross. Jesus and Him crucified must remain central.

So, does anyone have thoughts on this matter? Thanks in advance for any feedback.

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Our next post brings us to Revelation 22, which will be our final post in this series of chapter-by-chapter studies of the book of Revelation.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] As we saw in a previous post, Duncan McKenzie makes a good case that the great white throne judgment is a past event—for those who have already died. He sees it as an ongoing event ever since 70 AD, so that everyone who has died since then experiences a personal judgment following their physical death, rather than a one-time event in the future to be experienced by all humanity at once. Hebrews 9:27 (“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”) is said to reflect this sequence, as is Revelation 11:18. This was also the viewpoint of J. Stuart Russell (1816-1895), who wrote the landmark book “The Parousia.”

[2] Source: Kenneth Gentry, “New Creation as New Covenant” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 4.

Revelation Chapter 21 (Part 1: Verses 1-4)


REVELATION 21

Adam Maarschalk: February 3, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 21:1-27

Introduction to Revelation 21-22

Steve Gregg, the editor of the highly resourceful book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” provides the following breakdown of how these questions tend to be viewed by believers today (p. 485): Will There Be a Literal New Heavens and New Earth? What Is the New Jerusalem?

Literalist: Non-Literalist:
  • Some take the descriptions in these chapters fairly literally, as applied to a brand new planet and universe, which will be created after the close of the Millennium (premillennialists) or else at the Second Coming (some amillennialists and some postmillennialists).
  • The New Jerusalem described here will be the eternal home of the redeemed.
  • Some spiritualize the whole vision, applying it to a nonmaterial state of existence in heaven.
  • Others take the “New Heaven and the New Earth” to represent what Paul called “a New Creation” (2 Cor. 5:17)—that is, the condition of those who are in covenant with God and Christ through the New Covenant, the “Old Heaven and the Old Earth” (meaning the Old Covenant) having passed away.
  • The New Jerusalem represents the church itself, represented under the imagery of a new Holy of Holies—the tabernacle of God with men—in its present earthly existence.

A large portion of this first post will be spent discussing just the first 2 verses of Revelation 21, as they lay a foundation for what is to come, and also because they use language which appears fairly often throughout the rest of Scripture. We will only cover the first four verses of the chapter in this post, and the remainder of Rev. 21 will be covered in a second post.

Verse 1: John sees that [1] a new heaven and a new earth have replaced the old heaven and earth [2] there was no more sea. Steve Gregg (p. 486) speaks further on what he sees as the three major ways this text is interpreted:

The new heavens and the new earth have been interpreted in essentially three ways: (a) literally of a future material universe after the coming of Christ (so most futurists believe); (b) symbolically of heaven, the abode of the glorified saints; or (c) spiritually of the New Covenant community (the church) that has replaced the Old Covenant community of Israel.

Many tend to take the first position as the primary meaning and to acknowledge secondarily a spiritual application to the present believing community, which has already “tasted of the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5), but which still awaits the establishment of the literal “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13) at the return of Christ or after the Millennium.

Some may be surprised to know that many well-respected preachers of the past did not primarily see Revelation 21 through the lens of explanation (a) above. At the end of this post, we will note some quotes from Jonathan Edwards and John Owen. For now, let’s note how Charles Spurgeon viewed the meaning of “the new heavens and the new earth” in this excerpt from a sermon he preached in 1865:

Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, or any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under the new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354).

Spurgeon evidently saw the language of the new heavens and the new earth as one and the same with the arrival of the New Covenant. I share his viewpoint, at least in the primary sense. This fits with everything else we’ve been seeing in our study of the book of Revelation; the completed transition from the Old Covenant age (ending in 70 AD) to the New Covenant age (inaugurated at the cross, and overlapping with the Old Covenant age for one generation). Kenneth Gentry likewise sees a first-century fulfillment for this passage here in Rev. 21, in part based on its correlation with a similar prophecy by Isaiah. Gentry says on page 173 of his newest book, “Navigating the Book of Revelation,”

Isaiah prophesies the Church age by using dramatic new creation language: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

Proponents of all viewpoints seem to agree that John’s vision was a clear allusion to this text from Isaiah. The different interpretations have to do with the perceived timing of its fulfillment. Some see it as a yet future reality, to be fulfilled and made manifest after Christ’s future Second Coming. Futurist Arno C. Gaebelin said of Revelation 21, “We now come to the revelation concerning the final and eternal state of the earth” (Gregg, p. 486). John Piper sees Revelation 21 as speaking of the future “age of the resurrection.” Others, like Gentry and Charles Spurgeon, believe that this reality has been realized ever since the last symbols of the Old Covenant disappeared with Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, now replaced by the New Covenant and the New Jerusalem. Looking again at Isaiah’s parallel account, Gentry further clarifies his points on this matter[1]:

Isaiah’s prophecy clearly portrays the coming new covenant order established by Christ, which Paul calls a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; cp. Ephesians 2:10; 4:24)… We know that Isaiah was not speaking of the consummate order, for he includes aspects of the present fallen order in his description: “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” (Isaiah 65:20). The eternal order will not include infants, death, aging, and curse (p. 169).

Steve Gregg also expresses some thoughts on the Isaiah – Revelation 21 connection (pp. 488-489):

The concept of a new heaven and a new earth (v. 1) is first given clear expression in Isaiah and is later mentioned by Peter, probably alluding to Isaiah (2 Pet. 3:13). God first speaks of His intention to “plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, ‘You are My people’” (Isa. 51:16). Since this is uttered after the first heaven and earth were created, this must speak of planting a new heaven and earth… This could refer to the establishment of the New Covenant, since certain elements of the New Covenant order are said to be something that God “creates” (Isa. 4:5; 57:19). Also, the specific promise of “new heavens and a new earth,” found exclusively in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22, fall within a portion of Isaiah which New Testament writers applied to the present age.

Regarding the portion of Isaiah which New Testament writers applied to this present age, Steve Gregg offers the following comparisons (p. 506):

[a] Isaiah 65:23 with I Cor. 15:58
[b] Isaiah 65:25 with Luke 10:19
[c] Isaiah 66:1f with I Tim. 3:15
[d] Isaiah 66:8 with Gal. 4:26
[e] Isaiah 66:11 with Matt. 5:6
[f] Isaiah 66:12 with John 14:27
[g] Isaiah 66:15f with Matt. 22:7
[h] Isaiah 66:18 with Matt. 8:11
[i] Isaiah 66:19 with Eph. 3:8 and Col. 1:27
[j] Isaiah 66:20 with Rom. 15:16

David Curtis, pastor of Berean Bible Church in Chesapeake, Virginia, has this to say:

In biblical apocalyptic language, “heavens” refers to governments and rulers, and “earth” refers to the nation of people. This can be seen in the book of Isaiah [e.g. Isaiah 1:1-2, 10]…

Isaiah 34:4-5 (NKJV) All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree. 5 “For My sword shall be bathed in heaven; Indeed it shall come down on Edom, And on the people of My curse, for judgment.

Here we have a description of the fall of Edom; notice the language that is used. This is Biblical language to describe the fall of a nation. It should be clear that it is not to be taken literally. God says that, “His sword will be bathed in heaven,” then explains what He means by saying “It shall come down on Edom.” The NIV puts it this way, “My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed.” So, God speaks of His sword being bathed in heaven, meaning the nation Edom, not the literal heaven. Edom shall be rolled up like a scroll.

Isaiah 51:13-16 (NKJV) And you forget the LORD your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens And laid the foundations of the earth; You have feared continually every day Because of the fury of the oppressor, When he has prepared to destroy. And where is the fury of the oppressor? 14 The captive exile hastens, that he may be loosed, That he should not die in the pit, And that his bread should not fail. 15 But I am the LORD your God, Who divided the sea whose waves roared; The LORD of hosts is His name. 16 And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, ‘You are My people.'”

The time of planting the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth that is referred to here, was performed by God when He divided the sea (ver. 15) and gave the law (ver. 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 covenant nation. He planted the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth: that is, brought forth order, and government.

If the destruction of heaven and earth were to be taken literally in all of the Old Testament passages, it would mean that heaven and earth were destroyed a bunch of times. This language is clearly not literal, but figurative and apocalyptic [the same also being true in a New Testament passage like Matthew 24:29].

Australian Pastor Andrew Corbett (a partial-preterist) says on this matter:

When the Lord speaks [throughout Scripture] of a new heaven and a new earth there may be some merit in regarding this as Biblical language for a new covenant. This suspicion is increased when we consider how Christ used this expression as well: For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18).

Since Christ fulfilled the Law, was He right in stating that heaven and earth passed away? If we regard the expression ‘heaven and earth‘ as referring to God’s covenant with mankind, then this statement makes perfect sense. It seems that Christ was therefore saying that once the Old Covenant is fulfilled it will be done away with and replaced by a new covenant.

Hebrews 8:13 says that the Old Covenant became obsolete at the Cross, but it was still to be done away with. Since we now know that the Book of Revelation was written around 64AD (just after the Epistle to the Hebrews, which referred to the Old Covenant as still being in existence – note Hebrews 8:13) Revelation’s announcement of a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ was perhaps announcing that a change in covenant-order was pending…

Could the picture of a new heaven and a new earth in the Book of Revelation be describing a coming new physical reality? Perhaps. But we have some Biblical precendent for regarding it as an expression of God’s covenant relationship with mankind… Therefore, while there may be future physical implications of this Biblical prophecy, there might not be.

Putting these thoughts together (if we are on track), the use of the words “heaven” and “earth” in Revelation 21:1 represents [1] the final passing of the Old Covenant Judaic age in light of the destruction of the second temple and the city of Jerusalem when God poured out His wrath upon apostate Israel in 70 AD, just as Jesus predicted (e.g. Matthew 8:10-12; 11:21-24; 21:33-45; 22:1-14; 23:29-24:35; Luke 11:47-51; 13:1-5; 19:41-44; 21:1-36; 23:28-31); [2] the full establishment of the New Covenant age and the kingdom of God (no longer encumbered by Judaism), in which it is openly manifest that God’s covenant people are only those who place their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. I believe that the remainder of our study of Revelation 21 will bear these things out, as we compare Scripture with Scripture.

I appreciate what David Lowman says here: “So, perhaps it is best to understand the NHNE [new heavens and new earth] covenantally as a picture of the promised New Covenant that finds origination in the Old testament, institution in the Gospels, unfolding in the [book of] Acts and explanation in the rest of the New Testament.”

Regarding the absence of the sea in Rev. 21:1b, Steve Gregg says (p. 489), “Many take the sea symbolically as representing the nations and peoples of the Gentiles. According to this theory, only the spiritual Israel remains of all the nations that once covered the planet. The glory of the Lord thus fills the earth as the waters once covered the sea (Hab. 2:14).”[2]

Back in February, I posted a 3-part series titled “‘The earth’ as a Common Reference to Israel in Revelation.” The first post can be seen here, the second post here, and the third post here. This 3-part series was an in-depth study of John’s frequent use of the phrase “the earth” as an indication of the impending judgment upon apostate Israel in 70 AD. In the third post, I included an appendix briefly discussing a similar use of the phrase “the sea” to indicate the Gentile nations. Here is a large excerpt from that appendix:

One passage where this is almost certainly the case is Revelation 13:1, in referring to the beast with ten heads and seven horns. This is very similar to (and likely based on) one of Daniel’s visions where he saw four great beasts coming “up out of the sea” (Daniel 7:3); all of them are Gentile leaders. Most scholars are united in saying that these beasts represent [1] Babylon [2] Medo-Persia [3] Greece [4] Rome, with the Roman beast being the one that John saw.

Perhaps an even clearer indication of this idea is seen in Revelation 17:15 where the angel says to John, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (cf. Rev. 17:1). The word “sea” is not used in this instance, but the same idea (“many waters”—verse 2) is communicated, and this is done in terms of a clear reference to the Gentiles. In Rev. 12:12, we see that a woe is pronounced upon the inhabitants of “the earth and sea” because “the devil has come down to you in great wrath.” It seems it would make more sense for the Gentiles to be alarmed over this fact than for the whales and other sea creatures to feel distress…

The Old Testament basis for this pattern of “the sea” as a reference to Gentiles can be seen in the following passages:

[1] Psalm 65:7; The “roaring of the sea” and the “roaring of the waves” is equated with “the tumult of the peoples.” The latter phrase is understood in the Old Testament to be a reference to the Gentiles.
[2]
Isaiah 17:12-13; In verse 12, “many peoples” is compared to “the thundering of the sea” and “the roaring of mighty waters.” In verse 13 the same is said of “the nations,” a clear reference in Isaiah’s day to the Gentiles.
[3]
Isaiah 57:20; “The wicked,” it is said, are “like the tossing sea,” whose “waters toss up mire and dirt.”
[4]
Isaiah 60:1-5; This is a prophecy for the Church, deemed as such by New Testament writers (e.g. Eph. 5:14 RE: verse 1, Rev. 21:24 RE: verse 3). In verse 5 a direct parallel is drawn between “the sea” and “the nations”: “…the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.” Some translations use the phrase “the Gentiles” instead of “the nations.”
[5]
Jeremiah 6:23; Here, Jeremiah is prophesying of “a people coming from the north country” (verse 22) to make Jerusalem a desolation (verse 8). Their sound, Jeremiah said, “is like the roaring sea.” Babylon fulfilled this prophecy within Jeremiah’s lifetime when they devastated Jerusalem in 586 BC.

A prominent example of “the sea” as a reference to Gentiles in the New Testament outside of Revelation can be seen in Luke 21:25. Here Jesus is speaking of Jerusalem’s impending desolation (verse 20), what would be an imminent call for all who are in Judea to flee (verse 21), and wrath against “this [same] people” (i.e. the Jews) along with “great distress upon the earth” (or “the land,” i.e. Israel). Jesus prophesies the trampling of Jerusalem by the Gentiles (which Revelation 11:2 indicates would last for 42 months) in verse 24. In His very next thought, Jesus then utilizes a common reference to Israel (“sun and moon and stars”; see Genesis 37:9-10), and says that “on the earth” (Israel/Palestine) there would be “distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves” (verse 25). This is the same language we see used commonly in the Old Testament.

Here in Luke 21:20-25, “the earth” (Israel) is shown to be distinct from “the seas” (“the nations” and “the Gentiles”) in the same passage. This same distinction also takes place within several passages in Revelation:

[1] Revelation 13:1-18; The “beast rising out of the sea” (verse 1) is distinct from the “beast rising out of the earth” (verse 11), though the second beast ends up working on behalf of the first one (verses 12-17; Rev. 16:13) and is captured along with it (Rev. 19:20, 20:10). In our study of Revelation 13, we gave good reasons for believing the sea-beast to be Rome (in the general sense) and Nero (in the singular sense), and the earth-beast to represent Jewish leadership.
[2] Revelation 16:19; The “great city,” explicitly shown to be Jerusalem in Rev. 11:8, is shown to be distinct from “the cities of the nations.” The terms “earth” and “sea” are not used here, but this same idea is communicated.
[3] Revelation 17:15-18; An angel refers John back to Rev. 17:2-3 where he had seen “
the great prostitute who is seated on many waters…sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.” She is equated with “the great city” (verse 18), which we know is Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8), and the “waters…are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.” The Jewish prostitute is seen sitting on the Gentile beast. Early on they are on good terms with one another, but later the beast causes the demise of the prostitute (verse 16).

The picture before John then is of Israel’s national and religious leadership having taken a stand against God’s people in partnership with the primary Gentile force of her day, Rome. This is signified by the “sea” and “earth” dichotomy in the book of Revelation. One more reference to “the sea” in Revelation, which some scholars do take to indicate Gentiles, is in Revelation 21:1. There we read, “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.” Does this mean that when this passage is (or was, or is being) fulfilled, that there are to be no more non-Jews? No, but it certainly could mean that there would be no more distinction made between Jews and Gentiles. After all, this is the message of Revelation 10:7, the fulfillment of “the mystery of God” (cf. Eph. 3:6; Rom. 10:12-13; Gal. 3:28, 5:6, 6:15). One’s view on whether or not this is John’s indication here in Rev. 21:1 depends on whether one takes the “new heaven and a new earth” and “the holy city, new Jerusalem” (verse 2) to be New Covenant Christianity (Gal. 4:24-26; Heb. 12:22-24) or simply a literal and future dwelling place.

Verse 2: John saw “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” As noted earlier, many today see the “new Jerusalem” as a future, physical reality. Is there any precedence elsewhere in the New Testament for seeing the New Jerusalem as a present, non-physical reality? Recall Spurgeon’s quote at the beginning of this post, and how he related the dichotomy of the old and new heavens/earth with the Old/New Covenants. I haven’t read his entire sermon, but I’m willing to bet that he had this passage in mind:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons,one by a slave woman andone by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, whilethe son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are twocovenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor. For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers,like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say?“Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave butof the free woman (Galatians 4:21-31, emphasis added).

Bear with me as I take us on a brief rabbit trail here, but one that should prove to be valuable. The passage quoted in Galatians 4:27 is Isaiah 54:1. Most are agreed that this passage in Isaiah is parallel to Isaiah 66:8-9, seen in context here: “Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word: Your brothers who hate you and cast you out for My name’s sake have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy’; but it is they who shall be put to shame. The sound of an uproar from the city! A sound from the temple! The sound of the Lord, rendering recompense to His enemies! ‘Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?’ says the Lord; ‘shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?’ says your God. Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn for her (Isaiah 66:5-10).

Dispensationalists and Christian Zionists insist that Isaiah 66 predicts Israel’s birth as a nation in 1948. However, if it is indeed parallel to Isaiah 54:1, it must be seen in the same way that Paul made application of Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4. Isaiah foresaw the birthing and the breaking forth of the heavenly Jerusalem (66:8-10), even as earthly Jerusalem met her demise (66:6). Ironically, Isaiah 66 does not speak of the restoration of earthly Jerusalem into the hands of mostly unbelieving Jews in 1948. Rather, it mirrors the taking away of the earthly kingdom from apostate Israel (in 70 AD), and the giving of the heavenly kingdom exclusively to God’s holy nation, the Church, just as Jesus predicted (Matthew 21:43-44; cf. Daniel 7:18, 22, 27). It speaks of the full establishment of the New Jerusalem for the Church invisible, the dissolving of the Old Covenant in favor of the New Covenant. This is the point of Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, and John.[3]

In our study of Revelation 17, we noted the same dichotomy which we just saw in Galatians 4, as John was shown a contrasting picture of two women: the harlot of chapters 17 and 18, and the bride in chapter 19 clothed with “fine linen, bright and pure…the righteous deeds of the saints (see verses 1-8). In Hebrews 12:22-24 we see the same language, where the picture of the New (heavenly) Jerusalem is again linked with the New Covenant: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Looking at the larger context, the author of Hebrews is comparing and contrasting the giving of the Old Covenant (verses 18-21) with the granting of a non-physical kingdom even as the old physical kingdom (the Jerusalem temple; cf. Heb. 9:8-10) was about to be removed.

In John’s letter to the Church in Philadelphia, this promise was also given to those who would be found faithful: “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God. Never shall he go out of it, and 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 from My God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Rev. 3:12). This was a promise to first-century believers. The temple of which Christ spoke, of course, is the Church (I Cor. 3:9, 16-17; 6:19; II Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19-22), a very present reality.

In this same vein, Kenneth Gentry stated, “The new Jerusalem is a symbol of the redeemed people of God in whom God dwells (Rev 21:3), much like the “temple” in Paul’s writing often represents the people of God and not a physical building (1 Cor. 3:16–17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21).”[4] Steve Gregg adds (p. 490), “Since the New Jerusalem is later described as the ‘Lamb’s wife’ (v. 9), we can readily identify the symbol with the church, which is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:31-32).”

Can you see it in these passages? It’s time that the Church shakes off the false teachings of dispensationalism and Christian Zionism, with their heavy emphasis on an earthly kingdom for one particular ethnic group (the Jews), and lives in the present realities of the New Covenant, the heavenly kingdom which cannot be shaken.

Steve Gregg also adds, on pages 489-490:

The mixing of metaphors in the holy city, New Jerusalem…prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (v. 2) is arresting. That a city could be dressed in bridal attire is difficult to picture with the mind. Yet it is not the first time the images of a city and a woman have been joined in describing one entity. In Revelation 17, the great harlot was also Babylon, and a divine interpreter explained that “the woman whom you saw is that great city” (17:18). The figure of a woman to represent a city goes back to the Old Testament, where Jerusalem is referred to as “the virgin, the daughter of Zion” (Isa. 37:22)…

The bride is here prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (v. 2), suggesting the wedding day. In chapter 19, the announcement was made that the marriage of the Lamb had come and His wife had made herself ready (19:7), yet no description of the wedding or the bride was offered. This vision seems to pick up where that one left off, for here we see the procession of the bride in her readiness to be joined to her husband.

Verse 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.’” The language used here is quite similar to the description of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The phrase “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men” also hearkens back to Ezekiel 37:27-28, a passage which follows shortly after the New Covenant promises articulated in Ezekiel 36:24-28. Furthermore, in Ezekiel’s own vision of a city, he was told that it would be the place where God would dwell with His people (Ezekiel 43:7, 48:35). Steve Gregg notes that this promise was first made conditionally in Leviticus 26:11, and further comments:

The destruction of Solomon’s temple and the removal to Babylon in 586 B.C. was God’s way of revoking this privilege because of the Jews’ disobedience. While in Babylon, however, Ezekiel prophesied that there would come a time of ultimate restoration of God’s people under the terms of the New Covenant, resulting in the renewal of the original privilege: “My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore” (Ezek. 37:27). Many interpreters apply Ezekiel 37 to the Millennium, though the repetition of Ezekiel’s words in this place [Revelation 21] would favor a fulfillment in the new creation.

Is this promise awaiting future fulfillment? The apostle Paul didn’t believe so when he quoted Exodus 29:45 and Lev. 26:11 as a present reality for the Church in his own day (II Corinthians 6:16).

Verse 4: John is told that tears will be wiped away, and there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain, “for the former things have passed away.” Of all the statements in Revelation 21, this might be the hardest one to explain as a present reality. Here are some questions that we can ask to help us think through what John is told in this verse:

1. Since God can’t wipe away what isn’t there, can we conclude that tears are present when He wipes them away? If this is so, what is the likely setting where this takes place – on this earth during our lifetimes, or beyond the grave?

2. What does the rest of the New Testament say about “death” and its relationship to followers of Christ? What does the New Testament say about what Jesus has already accomplished with regard to death?

3. What does the New Testament teach regarding “former things” passing away, or “the old order of things” (as the NIV puts it) passing away? Does the NT elsewhere present the passing away of former things as an accomplished reality, or a future reality?

From Isaiah 53:4, we know that Jesus bore our griefs and sorrows on the cross. From John 3:16, we know that God gave His Son, Jesus, so that those who believe in Him would not perish. From II Timothy 1:10, we know that Jesus has already abolished death and brought life and immortality to life through the gospel. From II Corinthians 5:17, we know that the old has already passed away, the new has come, and we are new creations in Christ. From Galatians 6:15, we know that this new creation counts as everything. From Hebrews 12:24, we know that we have a new covenant with better promises and realities than ever existed in the old covenant. 

Revelation 21:4 is based on Isaiah 25:8, which says: “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth…” The context shows that God would ruin one city (Isaiah 25:2, 26:5), but on a mountain He would create “for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines…” (verse 6). He would destroy “the veil that is spread over all nations” (verse 7) and bring salvation (verse 9). The walls of the new city would be marked by salvation (26:1) and a righteous nation would enter the open gates (26:2; see Rev. 21:24-26). 

According to Paul, there was a veil over the mind when reading the old covenant, and that veil is only taken away in Christ (II Corinthians 3:14). The old covenant was also a ministry of death (II Cor. 3:7). So, when examining the background of Revelation 21:4, we can see that the death and sorrow was covenantal, and those “former things” passed away with the creation of the new covenant at the cross (Matthew 26:28) and the destruction of the old covenant system in 70 AD.

Steve Gregg remarks on these things (p. 490),

Some have so construed the promise God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (v. 4) as to teach that there will be tears in heaven. Biederwolf, however, suggests that the words simply mean “that He will so constitute things that no more tears will be shed.” …The causes of present mourning and crying are eradicated forever.

There is also a present realization of these truths, since, for the Christian, Christ has “abolished death” (2 Tim. 1:10), so that “whoever lives and believes” in Christ “shall never die” (John 11:25). As for sorrow, grief, and pain, our relationship with God through Christ has even transformed these experiences so that, while we do still mourn the loss of loved ones, we do not “sorrow as others who have no hope” (I Thess. 4:13).

Is Rev. 21:4 also a reflection of the truths laid out in Hebrews 2:14-15? There we read, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” In any case, one of the provisions of the New Covenant brought about by Christ’s death on the cross is the deliverance from the fear and sting of physical death (and, of course, exemption from the second death—Rev. 20:6, 14).

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Before moving on to our next post, where we will continue with our study of Revelation 21 (beginning with verse 5), I would like to close this post with some pertinent quotes from Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and John Owen (1616-1683) which mirror what we have been saying here:

[1] Jonathan Edwards: “The Scriptures further teach us to call the gospel-restoration and redemption, a creation of a new heaven and a new earth… The gospel-state is everywhere spoken of as a renewed state of things, wherein old things are passed away, and all things become new… And the dissolution of the Jewish state was often spoken of in the Old Testament as the end of the world. But we who belong to the gospel-church, belong to the new creation; and therefore there seems to be at least as much reason, that we should commemorate the work of this creation, as that the members of the ancient Jewish church should commemorate the work of the old creation…

Heaven and earth began to shake, in order to a dissolution, according to the prophecy of Haggai, before Christ came, that so only those things that cannot be shaken may remain, i.e. that those things that are come to an end may come to an end, and that only those things may remain which are to remain to all eternity.   So, in the first place, the carnal ordinances of the Jewish worship came to an end, to make way for the establishment of that spiritual worship, the worship of the hearts, which is to endure to all eternity.   This is one instance of the temporary world’s coming to an end, and the eternal world’s beginning.  And then, after that, the outward temple, and the outward city of Jerusalem, came to an end, to give place to the setting up of the spiritual temple and the spiritual city, which are to last to eternity.

[2] John Owen: [regarding II Peter 3] “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, were often understood… 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.

(1.) Because whatever is here mentioned was to have its peculiar influence on the men of that generation. He speaks of that wherein both the profane scoffers and those scoffed at were concerned, and that as Jews, some of them believing, others opposing, the faith. Now there was no particular concernment of that generation, nor in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general; but there was a peculiar relief for the one and a peculiar dread for the other at hand, in the destruction of the Jewish nation…

(2.) Peter tells them, that after the destruction and judgment that he speaks of (vers. 7-13), “We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth,’ etc. They had this expectation. But what is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isa. lxv. 17. Now, when shall this be that God shall 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 chap. lxvi. 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 Heb. xii. 26-28…

He will come- He will not tarry; and then 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 obstinancy against the Lord Christ, shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed: this we know shall be the end of these things, and that shortly.” (Sermon on 2 Peter iii. 11, Works, folio, 1721.).

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In Part 2 of our study of Revelation 21, we will examine the remainder of the chapter (verses 5-27). We will also note a number of similarities between Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21, Ezekiel 40-48 and Revelation 21, and other fascinating allusions to other Scripture texts in Rev. 21.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] Kenneth Gentry, “Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues,” GoodBirth Ministries: Fountain Inn, SC, 2009.

[2] Kenneth Gentry notes that “John Walvoord (Revelation, 311) takes a strongly literal approach,” saying, ‘The new earth apparently will have no bodies of water except for the river mentioned in 22:2.’” Gentry himself agrees that the replacing of the old heavens and earth with the new heavens and earth is a picture of the Old Covenant order. Gentry comments,

John witnesses the New Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven” (Rev 21:2). In John’s drama the collapse of the Jewish temple in AD 70 opens direct access to God (Rev 11:2, 19; cp. 19:1–2, 9; 22:14). If God descends with his New Jerusalem people “then the barrier of the glassy sea [Rev 4:6; cf. 4:2–5, 9–5:1, 6–7], which in the present age separates his dwelling from the earth, will have to have been done away with” (Mealy, 195). This is precisely what we see in Rev 21:3–5.

This new covenant principle of open access to God appears elsewhere in the NT. For example, we see this when Jesus promises that soon people will no longer need to worship in Jerusalem but can call upon God from anywhere (Jn 4:21, 23; cp. Mal 1:11). This begins to occur when the temple veil is torn and creation is darkened and shaken (Mt 27:45//, 51b; cp. Rev 21:1), for after that event Christians are urged to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16; cp. 7:19) because of the removal of the old covenant (Heb 8:13; 12:22–28) which blocked access to the holy place (Heb 9:8). This removal of the old covenant is dramatically exhibited and finalized in AD70.

In that the Exodus motif appears frequently in Rev, the removal of the sea may also reflect the drying of the Red Sea so that Israel could enter the Land (Ex 14:21–22; Ps 18:15; 106:9; Isa 44:27; 50:2; 51:10; 63:11–12; Jer 51:36; Nah 1:4). But even here we may note the separation from God involved, for the sea separated Israel from God’s promised inheritance, requiring that God overcome this impediment. Hence, the image of the Exodus / Red Sea underscores the symbol of open access to God.

I do believe the absence of the sea in Rev 21:1 portrays just this sort of image. The new covenant access to God is a major consequence of the removal of the old covenant and rituals portraying the hiddenness of God. As Christianity takes the place of Israel at AD 70, God’s people can come boldly before the throne of grace in a way they could not have in the OT.

Source: Kenneth Gentry, “No More Sea” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 4.

[3] Some (e.g. Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Gary DeMar) would say that Peter makes the same point in II Peter 3:1-14, where he speaks of scoffers “in the last days” (of the Old Covenant age?), the existence (at least in his day) of “the heavens and earth,” and the coming “day of the Lord” (70 AD?) in which the heavens would pass away with a roar along with the burning up of “the earth and the works that are done on it,” giving way to “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Others, like partial-preterist Kenneth Gentry, see Revelation 21:1-2 as primarily speaking of the events of 70 AD, but II Peter 3 speaking of what will take place at the end of world history with the future Second Coming of Christ. Here is what Kenneth Gentry says regarding these things:

My understanding of Revelation 21–22 is that John provides an ideal conception of new covenant Christianity as the new creation and the new Jerusalem. Though the ultimate, consummate, eternal new creation is implied in these verses, his primary focus is on the redemptive new creation in Christ. John is encouraging the beleaguered Christians to hold on through their trials: Once Jerusalem falls and Nero dies, they will have entered into the final redemptive-historical order in history. And he paints Christianity in glowing terms [p. 1, underlining added]… John’s new creation revelation differs from Peter’s (2 Pet. 3:10ff) [in that Peter highlights the eternal result of the temporal redemption in Christ that John speaks of].

Source: Kenneth Gentry, “New Creation As New Covenant” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, pp. 1, 4.

Rightly or wrongly, some have taken Gentry to task for inconsistency in these matters.

[4] Source: Kenneth Gentry, “Dispensationalism and the New Jerusalem” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 5.