A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
Having carried his description of Satan’s destiny and the resurrection of unbelievers to their conclusions in chapter 20, John now returns to the beginning of the Millennium to describe the new home of the Church in chapter 21 and the new Earth in chapter 22. We know this because the phrase “new heaven and new earth” also appears in Isaiah 65:17 at the beginning of a passage describing Israel during the Millennium.
Let’s take a minute to confirm the timing of Rev. 21. People who think the New Jerusalem doesn’t appear until the end of the Millennium don’t realize that Rev. 20:7-15 is a parenthetical insert John used to carry his discussion on the destinies of Satan and the unsaved to its ultimate conclusion. This is something John did several times in the Revelation narrative to help complete a thought. (For example in Rev. 12:3-6 he took four verses to summarize Satan’s interference in God’s plan over a period stretching from his pre-Adamic rebellion to the 2nd Coming.) In Rev. 21 John returned to the beginning of the Millennium to describe the New Jerusalem.
There are several clues in the text that support this interpretation. First, Rev. 20:7 begins, “when the thousand years are over” indicating that John has skipped to the end of the Millennium. Second, Rev. 21:1 is a direct quote from Isaiah 65:17 where the context is clearly Israel’s Kingdom Age, aka the Millennium, and third the first 5 verses of Rev.22 are a summary of Ezekiel 47:1-12, which is also about the Kingdom Age in Israel. If you think about it for a minute you’ll see there’s neither need nor purpose for a river of life in the New Jerusalem, it being the exclusive home of the redeemed Church. There will be no more sickness or death there, so we won’t need healing, and there won’t be anyone from the nations there either (Rev. 21:27). That plus the similarity of wording confirms that in Rev. 22:1-2 John was describing the River of Life on Earth, just like Ezekiel had done.
And then there’s the mention of the trees growing a different fruit each month in Rev. 22:2. This reference to time confirms that John was not talking about eternity, which by definition is the absence of time.
Also, the word translated new in John’s quote of Isaiah 65:17 can also mean refreshed or renewed. It refers to the time Jesus called the renewal of all things in Matt. 19:28 and Peter mentioned in Acts 3:21. This will take place at the time of the 2nd Coming.
At the rapture of the Church the Lord will take us to His Father’s house to be with Him where He is (John 14:2-3). 1 Thes 4:17 says once we go there, we’ll always be there. This is the New Jerusalem. As we’ll see Rev. 21:2 shows the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven and goes on to describe an entity far too big to be located on Earth. It must only come to Earth’s proximity.
In Matt. 24:29 Jesus said the Sun and Moon would no longer shine after the end of the Great Tribulation. Rev. 21:22-27 will describe the nations walking by the light of the New Jerusalem. After the 2nd Coming the New Jerusalem will replace the Sun as Earth’s source of light.
Rev. 21:22-27 also shows the Kings of Earth bringing their splendor to the New Jerusalem, but says nothing impure can ever enter it, only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, which is a description of the Church.
Taken together these verses show there are still three groups of humans during the Millennium. Israel in the promised land, the nations of Earth still in their natural state, and the perfected Church, living nearby but protected from impurity, Once eternity begins there won’t be any impurities left in God’s Creation (1 Cor. 15:24-25). OK. Let’s begin our study of Rev. 21
The New Jerusalem
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (Rev. 21:1)
As I said, Jesus called this “the renewal of all things” in Matt. 19:28. According to Romans 8:19-22 the creation itself has been writhing and groaning, waiting for the Sons of God to be revealed so it could finally be liberated from its bondage to decay. The judgments of the Great Tribulation served in part to prepare the Earth for its restoration. In all probability, its orbit and axis will have been returned to their original configurations, bringing again the world wide sub-tropical environment likely enjoyed by our first parents. The vast oceans, silent witnesses to the enormity of Noah’s flood will be hoisted back into the outer atmosphere, restoring the water vapor canopy that protected early man and allowing the return of long life spans they experienced (Isaiah 65:20). The sea floors will be elevated and the mountains lowered, and Earth will once again resemble the Garden Planet it was when Adam came on the scene. Its atmosphere will no longer be the haunt of demons, and the heavens will have been purified of Satan’s rebellious minions forever (Rev. 12:7-8).
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Rev. 21:2-5)
Notice that while John watched the New Jerusalem descending from Heaven, he didn’t report it as landing anywhere. Though it’s close enough to Earth for him to describe it accurately, it’s not on the Earth.
And don’t be fooled into believing that the phrase “prepared as a bride” means that the New Jerusalem is the Bride. No, the word “as” tells us that John’s comparing the New Jerusalem to a bride on her wedding day. Just as no expense is spared in making a bride look as beautiful as possible for her wedding, so none of God’s creativity has been spared in making the home of the redeemed His ultimate expression of beauty.
Finally, because of that one death on a hill outside of Jerusalem, God and man have been reconciled (Col. 1:19-20) and His heart’s longing to dwell with His creation has been fulfilled. For in the Church, He’s done nothing less than create a new race of human, as righteous as He is, fit to dwell in His Presence.
And so the Creator of the Universe has made everything new, a New Heaven, a New Earth, and a New Race of Human. The damage caused in the Garden by the Serpent has been repaired.
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Rev. 21:6-8)
In his first letter to the Church John had asked the rhetorical question, “Who is it that overcomes the world?” His answer was, “Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:5) Once again God makes the alternatives clear. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37) Come to the One who gives the Living Water and drink from Him without cost, or remain in your sins and die forever.
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Rev. 21:9-14)
When Judas Iscariot betrayed the Lord and killed himself, the 12 were disciples, or students. Later the remaining 11, now Apostles (sent ones), voted and chose Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:21-26). Nothing more was written about him, and we don’t know why. Obviously, God’s choice was Paul, by far the most prolific of New Testament authors. I think it’ll be his name we see on the foundation.
The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man’s measurement, which the angel was using. The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. (Rev. 21:15-21)
12,000 stadia are equal to about 1380 miles, meaning that if this city came to rest in Europe, it would cover everything from Scandinavia to Gibraltar and from the Coast of Spain to Italy’s heel. Alternatively, it would hide the entire Middle East, or all of the Eastern US from Maine to Florida and from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. And at 1380 miles tall it would be about 4000 times as tall as the next tallest building on Earth. A globe with a 1380 mile diameter would be about 1/6th the size of Earth or about 2/3rds the size of the moon. More likely, it’s a small planet or low orbit satellite. Some see it as a cube and others as a pyramid, and we may live on it or in it or both. What we know is that it’s laid out as a huge city with streets paved in the purest gold, so pure it’s nearly transparent, and according to John 14:2 it’s filled with many mansions.
While the names of these precious stones don’t move easily between languages, it’s likely that they’re the same as the stones on the High Priest’s breast plate.
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev. 21:22-27)
Not only does the home of the Redeemed not need the sun, but in fact it’s the source of light for the nations of Earth. Their kings bring the best of Earth’s production into it for our use, although as natural humans they themselves cannot enter. Having been the Lord’s Temple for all the Age of the Church, we now discover that He’s become ours for Eternity.
The River of Life
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.” (Rev. 22:1-6)
As we saw at the beginning, this same river with its trees bearing a different fruit every month and leaves with healing power is described in Ezekiel 47:1&12 as flowing from under the south side of the Temple in the Holy City, now called Jehovah Shammah (The Lord is there) , in Israel (Ezekiel 48:35). This tells us that we’re back on Earth, admiring the crystal clear river flowing through the Holy City.
According to Zechariah 14:4-8 this river will suddenly begin flowing on the day of the Lord’s return. It will flow south toward the valley formed by a giant earthquake that will split the Mount of Olives from east to west. Once there it will fill the valley, flowing to the Mediterranean in the west and the Dead Sea in the east. Its healing waters freshen the Dead Sea and fish from the Mediterranean will now swim there in abundance. (Ezekiel 47:9-10)
Where the river splits to flow east and west, what remains of the city of Jerusalem will line its banks. But the old Temple Mount along with the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aksa Mosque will lie in ruins beneath the deep waters, never to be seen again. They were right in the path of the earthquake, and the river will swallow them up, ending centuries of contention over the place God once called the apple of His eye. (Zech 2:8) (We covered this in greater detail in our study of Revelation 11:15-12:17.)
These verses confirm that John is speaking of the Millennium on Earth, not of eternity. And once again we’re told of servants who serve Him and reign with Him but are never called Priests or Kings, and they’re on the Earth not in the New Jerusalem. They’re the resurrected Tribulation martyrs from Rev. 7:9-14 and Rev. 20:4.
Jesus Is Coming
“Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.”
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”
Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (Rev. 22:7-11)
Being an eyewitness to the culmination of human history is overwhelming to John and he falls at the feet of the angel guiding him in an act of worship. But unlike that other angel, the one who started all the trouble because of his craving for worship, this one rebukes John, admonishing him to worship the One Who is worthy.
John was called the disciple who Jesus loved and received the clearest description of the End of the Age. Earlier Daniel, called the beloved prophet, (Daniel 10:11) had also received detailed descriptions of the same period. When Daniel asked for clarification he was told the words were closed up and sealed until the time of the end (Daniel 12:9). Here John is told not to seal up what he’d been told because the time is near. All through the Church Age God’s prophecies of Earth’s final days would be available for everyone to read. Those who were so inclined could ignore them and continue to be disobedient and those who read and applied it could do right and be Holy, but the End would come just as John had seen it regardless of man’s response.
“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (Rev. 22:12-13)
This passage makes three sets of claims about The Lord. He is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, and the First and the Last. These aren’t just repetitive thoughts.
Variations on the phrase Alpha and Omega have autographed God’s greatest work from the beginning. The first letter of the Greek alphabet is Alpha and the last is Omega. It’s like saying, “From A to Z” in English. The Hebrew equivalents are Aleph and Tau. These two letters appear un-translated in a couple of interesting places in the Hebrew Scripture. One is in Genesis 1:1 right after the phrase “In the beginning God …” making the Hebrew version read, “In the beginning God, the Aleph and the Tau, created the Heavens and the Earth.” You have to get a Hebrew interlinear Bible to find it but it’s there.
The other place is in Zechariah 12:10 where the Hebrew reads, “They will look upon me, the Aleph and the Tau, the one they have pierced …” It’s a prophecy of Israel finally recognizing the true identity of the Messiah at the End of the Age. To the Greeks He’s the Alpha and the Omega, the Christ. To the Hebrews He’s the Aleph and the Tau, the Messiah.
The Greek word translated beginning is “arche” and denotes an order of time, place or rank. End comes from “telos”, which means the ultimate result or purpose; the upper limit. And so Jesus is the first in order of time, place and rank (Col 1:18), and represents the ultimate result or purpose of man; to be one with God (John 17:20-23).
The word translated first is “protos” and means the foremost or best. We get prototype from this word. And last comes from “eschatos” a superlative meaning farthest or uttermost. The term eschatology (the study of the end times) originates here. He is the prototype, against whom all will be compared (Rom 8:29), the uttermost or perfect example of the race, (Hebr 1:3) the only one ever born.
And so He was there before the beginning and will be there after the end. He represents man’s ultimate purpose and is our perfect example.
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Rev. 22:14-15)
Here is yet another clue that John is not describing our eternal state. In eternity there will be no such people as those he is describing as being outside the city.
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16).
The last of seven blessings in The Revelation. The other six are found in Rev. 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, and Rev. 22:7. One last time we’re reminded that while we may not be Jewish, the God we worship is. The phrase root and offspring of David recalls a Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 11:1-3.
Some modern versions incorrectly translate the Hebrew in Isaiah 14:12 giving Satan the title Morning Star. When first translated into Latin, the Hebrew word “heylel” became Lucifer, or light bearer, and that’s how the name originated. Heylel literally means shining one, but its intent describes someone who is boastful or proud, calling attention to ones self, as in “always in the spotlight”. The entire Hebrew phrase in Isaiah 14:12 is Heylel ben Shachar and means Shining One, Son of the Dawn. Our Lord Jesus is the one and only Bright Morning Star.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Rev. 22:17)
This is the Lord’s final reminder that the price for our salvation has already been paid, and is available to everyone without condition. Everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks the door will be opened (Matt. 7:8). How many times does He have to say that He didn’t create anyone to be without hope?
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (Rev. 22:18-19)
In spite of this clear warning, there have been many attempts to allegorize or spiritualize this book into something it was never intended to be. It’s neither history, nor allegory, nor fantasy, but prophecy. And it will be fulfilled just as God has promised, all of our efforts at denial notwithstanding.
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (Rev. 22:20-21)
This concludes our study of the Book of Revelation.