THE NEW JERUSALEM

I very much enjoyed reading through the Bible this year, using the Discipleship Journalformat that Tyla introduced to us. Reading the Bible in four different places at once provides wonderful opportunities to observe the way the various passages illuminate one another. The year ended with the final chapters of JobMalachiJohn and Revelation, each with their own wonderful finales! I saw a correspondence between Job 42 andJohn 20-21 with Job's restoration from a living death with a doubling of his former wealth as the foreshadowing or "type" of Christ's resurrection at the end of John's Gospel. The end of Malachi with its powerful prophecies of Christ's first coming (3:1-4; 4:1-3), presaged by the coming of the "messenger" who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord (3:1), even he who would come "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Malachi 4:5-6 with Luke 1:17; see also Matthew 11:14), also wonderfully mirrored Revelation'sprophecies concerning of the second coming of our Lord found in chapters 20-22.

As we open the New Year, I would like to consider, briefly, the language of Revelation 21 concerning "the new Jerusalem". This old world, so deeply damaged by sin and the curse which God placed upon it because of sin, will be replaced by a new one when Christ returns in glory. We wonder what it will be like and here God tells us, but He uses language that is highly symbolic and metaphorical. What do the images and numbers mean? Let us take a look at them for they are not so very hard to understand if you keep in mind that these images and numbers are taken from elsewhere in Scripture.

New Jerusalem is the "capital", so to speak, of the "new heaven and earth" (21:1-2; see also Isaiah 65:17, 66:22 and 2 Peter 3:13). The word "city" immediately suggests to us houses, buildings and streets. To the ancients it would also suggest a wall, for a city without a wall was a city without security, easily captured by enemy soldiers and pillaged. Hence the New Jerusalem also has a wall (21:17-18). Now, in what I am about to say, I do not for a moment intend to convey the notion that the place that all the saints will one day inhabit isn't solid or doesn't contain streets, buildings, walls, etc.. It may indeed contain all of these things, along with trees, fields, even mountains, rivers and seas (notwithstanding the language of 21:1). I think also that C. S. Lewis's idea that it shall be much more "solid" or substantial than the things of this world is undoubtedly right.

However, we must not draw our conclusions as to its physical appearance strictly from the language of Scripture. We will find out that information when we get there. But what we can discover through these metaphors and symbols is much more important. To begin with, the New Jerusalem is another name for the Church. In 21:9 the angel says to John, "Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." We know that the bride of Christ is His Church (Ephesians 5:22-33; see also Isaiah 62:5; John 3:29; Revelation 19:7). The Church is not a building or an organizational hierarchy. It is the redeemed community, those rescued by Christ from sin, Satan, death and hell. It exists on earth and also in heaven. On earth it is the "Church Militant", that is, the Church at war, besieged by the world, the flesh and the devil. In heaven it is the "Church Triumphant", the Church at rest, forever beyond the reach of those forces that would destroy or disturb their peace. At the end of this age, when Christ returns in glory, the Church Militant that remains on earth will be translated, "in the twinkling of an eye" into the Church Triumphant. Since it is of this event that the angel speaks to John, he describes it as "the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (21:2, 10). All the saints remaining on earth shall suddenly be seen coming back with Christ. Those who have remained hostile to Christ and refused to receive Him, whether men or demons, will see the bride of Christ as she "descends" with Him in glory.

Using the metaphor of a city, John says that it had "the glory of God", a "brilliance" as of "a stone of crystal-clear jasper." (v. 10) Jaspar comes in many different colors but its clearness represents the honesty and purity of the saints; they have nothing to hide. After this we have several different instances where the number twelve is used: twelve gates guarded by twelve angels, twelve foundation stones, even measurements of the city and its wall that are multiples of twelve. Modern translations that convert the original language of these measurements into miles and feet are doing a disservice for they hide the multiples of twelve. What do they mean? The answers are found in the text. The gates are called after the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, the foundation stones are named after the twelve Apostles. But what do the twelve tribes and the twelve Apostles represent? They signify that the members of Christ's Church are the true inheritors of the promises of God to Abraham and his "seed", whether they be physically descended from him or not. The Apostle Paul says, "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendents [literally, "seed"], heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:29)

The foundation stones of the city are the twelve precious stones that were placed on the "breast piece of judgment" (Exodus 28:15-30) worn by the high priest, each stone representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Into the breast piece were placed the "Urim and the Thummim" by which the high priest would divine the will of the Lord for Israel. The point of the imagery is that the Church fulfills the ideal that God's people would be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6; see also 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10) The gates of pearl represent the "pearl of great value" (Matthew 13:45-46), namely, the kingdom of heaven which, in its essence is "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). Those who dwell in the city are those who have entered into the kingdom of God. The golden, translucent street represents the "Highway of Holiness" (Isaiah 34:8-10) because of its preciousness, purity and clarity. Those who belong to that city walk in the way of holiness.

Now I must stop, for I am out of space. But this is the point: what we hope to obtain in the world to come is what we must seek with all our heart while in this world. The Church here is under siege and its treasures are contained in "earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4:7) but those who truly belong to the Church are those who are sincerely seeking "things above" (Colossians 3:1-2) and seeking to live here on earth, however imperfectly, as they wish to live in that heavenly community hereafter. May that be true for all of us in this coming year!