It is a thrilling experience to see the harbor surrounding New York City for the first time. The skyline of tall buildings, the beauty of the harbor, and the attraction of the Statue of Liberty all bring a sense of excitement to those who visit the city. Even more thrilling than seeing New York City will be the first glimpse of Heaven. Some of the most reassuring words in Scripture are found in the final chapters of Revelation. It will be exciting to explore the heavenly realms which will be the final abode of God’s people.
In the last chapters of the Revelation we are shown something of the beauty which those who have followed the Lamb will enjoy throughout eternity. The New Jerusalem will be the abode of the redeemed. Conditions within the New Jerusalem are at least symbolic of the conditions that will exist in eternity. God is planning the very best for His children, and the fulfillment of His plans will far surpass even our greatest expectations.
1. The New Heaven and the New Earth (Revelation 21:1-8)
The earth as we know it will not last forever. God will create a new earth (Isaiah 65:17), and He will provide a dwelling place for His people. Revelation 21 refers to the eternal home of the Redeemed—the “Father’s house with many mansions” (John 14:2). It is one of the most beautiful and comforting chapters in the whole Bible, a chapter we never tire of reading. It is not certain whether the new heaven and earth will include a renovation of the present earth, or whether there will be a new level of life perhaps on some other planet. Those whose names are written in the Book of Life will be in the presence of the Lord in the realm of Heaven. We are strangers and pilgrims here on earth, people who desire a better country.
When John says that the first heaven and the first earth passed away, the Apostle is not saying that they become extinct; he is merely hinting that they will be changed from one condition to another. The heavens and the earth that we are familiar with now will be completely renovated and recreated by fire (2 Peter 3:7).
In the New Jerusalem, old experiences will be excluded. Heaven will be a beautiful place where believers will experience fellowship with Christ. Death will vanish, and so will sorrow and crying and pain. Residents of Heaven will rest from labor (Revelation 14:13), and will experience everlasting joy. These promises are true and can be counted upon (verse 5).
Christians in the Western world today don’t seem to talk much about Heaven. Why should they? There are hockey and football; there are travel and television; there are exotic foods and fancy fashions; there are crafts and trinkets and shopping trips; there are stocks and bonds and money markets. There are so many fascinating and exciting things to talk about in this materialistic age that Heaven is ignored by multitudes. Many folks are so blessed in this life that the attraction of Heaven is almost forgotten.
Those who see this world as their home look upon leaving it as a supreme tragedy. But those whose hearts are fixed on doing the will of God thrill at thoughts about Heaven. The excitement of seeing Jesus, dwelling with Him, and being like Him should thrill our hearts and cause us to love the Lord with a burning devotion for doing His will. The Bible says that all who have this hope in them purify themselves as He is pure (1 John 3:3).
New things will be encountered in the New Jerusalem (verse 5). There will be a sense of complete satisfaction. The fountain of the water of life will be freely given. John 4:10 indicates that Jesus Himself is that “living water” that satisfies the thirst of the soul. Jesus said to John, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (verse 6). In Heaven, there will be a full inheritance of all the good things enumerated in these chapters, including the presence of Jesus Himself (verse 7).
Certain people will be shut out. People whose lives are characterized by the eight traits listed in verse 8 will be excluded from the heavenly inheritance.
The fearful (NKJV, cowardly) are those who are apprehensive and lack confidence, and turn back from following Christ. It is the cowardly who deny Christ because of “the fear of man.” Those who fear to stand boldly for Christ, lest they be ridiculed by others, are manifesting the spirit of cowardice.
The unbelieving are those who refuse to trust Christ for salvation, and deny the truth of His Word (John 3:18).
The abominable speaks of those who are polluted, having allowed themselves to become stained and contaminated with the filthy evils of this world. They pursue styles of living which are altogether contrary to the teachings of the Bible.
The murderers are those who have a disregard for the value of human life. Everyone knows that “murder” involves more than sticking a knife into another person in order to snuff out his life. It is possible to cast looks that are filled with murder, and to speak words that are intended to slay others. In the United States of America, drunk drivers kill dozens of persons every day.
The whoremongers (NKJV, sexually immoral) are those caught up in rape, incest, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, whoredom, bestiality, lasciviousness, harlotry, lewdness, and a whole realm of related impurities.
The sorcerers are those who supposedly use evil supernatural powers over people. Sorcery includes magic, spiritism, witchcraft, and demon worship. The Greek word is pharmakeia, meaning “the use of drugs.”
The idolaters are those who worship false gods, including those who are given over to covetousness and selfishness (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5).
The liars are those who practice falsehood, either in speech or in silence. God condemns all who make a lie, speak a lie, or act out a lie.
The text does not say that everyone who has ever committed any of these sins will be excluded from Heaven, but those whose lives are habitually characterized by these traits will be prohibited from entry.
Those who fall into the categories stated above will be banished from the Lord’s presence, and will suffer in a fire that shall never be extinguished. The “second death” (verse 8) is defined in Revelation 20:14 as “the lake of fire.”
2. The Description of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-27)
John tells about the glory of the New Jerusalem. It is a place of unique construction and beauty. The street of the city will be made of pure gold (verse 21). There will not be any need for lights in the heavenly city because the radiant glory of God will illuminate it.
In verses 9-10 John saw two aspects of the saints’ relation to the Lord: He saw the saints as the bride, the Lamb’s wife—and also as the holy city. How can the saints be a city and at the same time a wife? When we speak, for example, of New York City, we may mean the material city and its buildings, or we may mean its people. We say, “New York is a large city”—meaning the material city. We say, “New York is a wicked city”—meaning its people. Both symbols can have a meaningful connotation.
Verse 12 states that the names of the twelve tribes of Israel will be written on the twelve gates that pierce the walls of the city, and the names of the twelve apostles will be engraved on the twelve foundations of the city (verse 14). Each foundation will be inscribed with the name of an apostle, and each gate will be named for an Israeli tribe.
John saw an angel measure the city; it will be a large city shaped like a cube (or perhaps a pyramid)—1500 miles long, 1500 miles wide, and 1500 miles high, with dwelling places at various levels. There will be no housing shortage in Heaven. The city will be large and spacious (verses 15-17). There will be plenty of room for all who believe in Jesus Christ. The New Jerusalem will be a place of great magnitude, and without knowing all the details, we can be certain that the city will be large enough to accommodate all who are destined to live there. One Bible student estimates that 20 billion people could live in a cube this large, with each person able to have a private 75-acre mansion.
The abode of the redeemed will be a place of beauty and radiance (verses 18-21). It will be beautiful beyond the power of words to describe. The gates are pearls. Each of the twelve foundations is a gem of unusual brilliance.
The material beauty of the city will be amplified by the absence of tears and sorrow. We see in verse 4 that God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Human hands are poor at drying tears. Neighbors and friends can try to sympathize and bring comfort, but only God can stop the fountain of tears. Every tear that has been shed on earth will be wiped away and forgotten in Heaven. And even death will be banished in the world to come.
In the circle of every family, a mother, a wife, a husband, or a son has been taken by death; but over in the heavenly city, death will be a thing of the past!
There is no temple in the city because the Lord God Himself (and the Lamb) are the temple of the new city. The saints will now be in the immediate presence of the Lord. There is no need of light from the sun or the moon, for God Himself is the source of light (verse 23).
In verses 25-27 we learn that no wicked person or evil thing will be permitted to enter the portals of the New Jerusalem. Not everybody who talks about Heaven is going there. Those who do abominable works and are given to falsehoods will not be there. Only those whose names are in the Book of Life will inhabit Heaven.
3. The Joys of the Heavenly City (Revelation 22:1-10)
At the center of the heavenly city is the presence of God and of the Lamb. John’s eye is drawn to the river of life and to the tree with leaves that are intended for the healing of the nations. The “pure river of water” is mentioned in verse 1. Most of earth’s cities are built along the banks of important rivers, which soon become polluted by the very cities to which they give rise. In the heavenly city, the river flows out from the throne of God. It is no muddy stream, but a pure river containing the very essence of life itself.
The “tree of life” is mentioned in verse 2. This reminds us of the Garden of Eden where the test of loyalty to God had to do with a tree. The “tree of life” was not at first forbidden to Adam and Eve, but once sin entered, God put Adam and Eve beyond the reach of that tree. Had Adam and Eve eaten of the tree in their fallen condition, they would have been doomed to live forever in their sins.
Seeing the face of God (verses 3-4) will be Heaven’s crowning joy. It will be exciting to see the God who created us and the Christ who redeemed us. What a thrill to be in the presence of Jesus, the One in whom we trusted for our salvation and about whom we have sung so many songs. The joy of Heaven will focus on the fellowship of His presence. Heaven will be a place of rest—not sleepy inactivity, but the cessation of sorrow and temptation. There will be activity as we go about our duties. There will be the delight of knowledge which will be complete and full.
The saints have always looked forward to the heavenly city. Abraham looked for a city “which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). The Bible says that the great city let down from God is made of real materials. Why would God tell us of streets of gold and gates of pearl if it were not a real city? Heaven will be a real place. It is not going to be a cloudy, hazy mixture of nothing.
There have been many advances in science to make life here on earth more convenient, but they pale into the background when compared with the wonders which God has prepared for his people. The hymn writer says, “I will sing you a song of the beautiful land, the far-away home of the soul; where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand, while the years of eternity roll.” Joy unspeakable and full of glory awaits God’s people on the other shore!
4. The Finished Work of Christ (Revelation 22:11-16)
Throughout the New Testament epistles, the return of Christ is expected to take place at any moment. Paul says that the “day of the Lord” will come “as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). It is not wise to wait until some ideal time to turn one’s life over to Christ, for all too soon, at an unexpected time, the opportunity for salvation will be gone. Those who have missed out will be lost forever.
The time of the end may be so near at hand that there will be no time for people to change their lifestyles. The point is this: our choices lead to consequences, and when the Lord returns, the opportunity for repentance will have passed forever. What each person is then, he will be on into eternity. Those who are unjust will remain unjust; the righteous will be holy still (verse 11).
In verse 16 Jesus describes Himself as “the Root and Offspring of David,” and “the Bright and Morning Star.” Jesus (as man) is both the ancestor of David and also a descendant of David. Jesus (as God) is like a bright star in the early morning which heralds the end of the night, and the dawn of a new day. His Second Coming will herald the arrival of the eternal home in Heaven.
Accepting or rejecting the sacrifice of Christ will determine our future destiny (verses 12-15). When the Lord comes, our destinies will have been fixed. Those who have accepted Christ and lived for Him have the provision of the cross to support them (verse 14).
Those “who do His commandments” (verse 14)—not just do them, but do them because they have had their robes washed in the blood of Christ—will have a right to the tree of life and will spend eternity in the heavenly city.
By way of contrast, those who are vile and unclean will be cut off from all that is holy and noble and beautiful. The filthy and the unrighteous will go out into the next world to continue in the same filthiness (verse 11). Those who hear the truth but continue to do wrong, fix their destiny in the place of damnation.
5. The Final Witness of the Spirit (Revelation 22:17-21)
It is fitting that the Bible should close with a reference to the Holy Spirit. He is the Author of the Book. He had part in the original creation. He has been active down through the ages of human history. He continues to call and plead with men and women and boys and girls to come to Jesus and find salvation through Him Who will be the Victor over the forces of evil. There are three things the Spirit has to say before the Scriptures are brought to a close.
The last invitation (Revelation 22:17)
The word “come” is the grandest word in the gospel. It rang out in the days of Noah when God was about to pour out His wrath against the world (Genesis 7:1). Once again the Spirit calls for men and women (all persons) to come and believe the message of the gospel. The choice is entirely up to the individual. It is for “whoever desires.” We have the awesome power of opening the door of our hearts to Jesus, or we can shut the door, and lock Him out forever. When we take sides with Jesus, we are on the winning side!
The last warning (Revelation 22:18-19)
The initial scope of the warning has to do with the book of Revelation. The Lord guards this book which so many have scorned. The Revelation opens with a blessing pronounced upon those who read it and keep it, and closes by announcing a curse upon those who tamper with it. Similar warnings are found in other parts of the Bible (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5-6).
The last promise (Revelation 22:20-21)
The last promise of the Bible is related to our Lord’s return. Jesus never designated a set time, but He spoke often of the certainty of His coming. The last prayer of the Bible is “Come, Lord Jesus!” Surely this is the desire of each person who loves Him. We often echo these same words. We are anxious to see an end to sin and sorrow and suffering. We want to see Jesus and to be like Him and to live with Him in eternity. The final invitation of the Bible is a call for men and women to come and believe the message of the Gospel. No one should delay, for none of us knows just when Jesus will return. And until that day, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”
May each brother and sister in Christ who reads this article persevere in the faith until the day dawns and the Bright and Morning Star appears!