Revelation 20 concluded with the abolition of death at the end of the millennium and in Revelation 21–22 we are now about to witness the implications of this wonderful change. The original intention of the Creator was to establish a world that could reflect His glory. Tragically 7000 years of sin and death intervened to mar that vision, but now we are about to see first hand ‘the end’ when God will be ‘all in all’.
The Beginning and the End
These last two chapters of the Apocalypse mirror the earliest chapters of Genesis. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth by establishing the firmament and the dry land. He fashioned the sun and moon, created all living creatures and placed the man and woman in an exquisite garden fed by a pure river. Through the nurture of the elohim God dwelt with man and offered him fruitfulness and dominion over all things.
But then tragedy struck. Suddenly sin arrived and in its train came the curse of pain, suffering and death. The tree of life was immediately made inaccessible. A lamb was slain to cover their sins. A bruised seed who could restore harmony was promised and man and woman were banished from paradise.
All of these literal events find a spiritual counterpart in Revelation 21,22 and portray a fitting end to the revealed purpose. Thus we read that God will create a new heaven and earth (21:1), and that there will be no more sea (21:1). He will dwell once more in fellowship with mankind (21:3) as well as remove pain, sorrow and death (21:4). The promise of inheritance over all things will be a fact (21:7), and the wonderful harmony of marriage between the second Adam and his bride will be an everlasting reality (21:2, 9).
A glorious enclosed city will replace the enclosed garden (21:12). In fact the power that shaped the foundations of the earth is now present to secure the foundations of the city (21:19). The darkness has now passed and the glory of the city is so brilliant that there is no longer further need for the sun or moon (21:23, 25, 22:5). A pure river of life can be seen wending its way through the land, flanked on either side by the wood of life (22:1,2). The curse has been lifted, the earth is once more fruitful and the Lamb that had once been slain in the beginning is now alive for ever more (22:2,3).
We can only begin to marvel at the changes this will entail. This is none other than the era of the third heaven that Paul was permitted to see in vision (2 Cor 12:2). It relates to a time of absolute harmony between Yahweh and His people and we can only gaze in awe at the unspoken implications of such glory.
Verse 1 describes a brand new constitution. The former millennial heavens and earth, glorious though they will be, will pass into oblivion and be replaced by a new arrangement that will incorporate those found worthy during the millennium itself. Although the constituents of this new government will all possess immortality nevertheless some will occupy a higher station than others. The sea, a symbol of the mass of unruly nations, will be a thing of the past. As John so aptly put it—“and there was no more sea”.
Whilst he was gazing at this new arrangement he witnessed the arrival of a new metropolis—the holy city, the new Jerusalem. It came down from heaven in the sense that heaven is the source of its power and life (cp John 6:58–63). But it is more than a city, it is a bride and tabernacle as well (v2,3).
This blending of symbols is quite remarkable. She is a bride, yet also a mother because the city is the mother of us all, Jerusalem from above, the new covenant (Gal 4:24–26; Psa 87:1–4). Although she is linked with the new covenant yet she is like the tabernacle that was constructed under the old covenant. These series of paradoxes only serve to highlight the uniqueness of each symbol. They are introduced into the record too as deliberate contrasts to the harlot and great city of previous chapters.
The glorification of the righteous will provide a wonderful opportunity for rejoicing. God at last will dwell in absolute harmony with perfected men and women. The promise that He originally made to Abraham and later developed with the seed of promise, “I will be their God and they shall be my people” (Gen 17:7,8; Jer 32:28; Ezek 37:23) will find its ultimate fulfilment. God’s faithfulness will stand triumphant.
Can we picture them assembled before their God and see the transformation when “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away” (v4)? This scene is based on Isaiah 25:8 which describes the rejoicing of the earth at the removal of every hindrance that blocks the road to immortality.
All the pain and distress, which is such an integral part of life today, will be a thing of the past—simply a light affliction when compared with the eternal weight of glory that will be revealed at this time. Surely this prospect provides the encouragement we need to press on and redouble our efforts in service to God.
John then saw the king upon the throne issue another creative fiat: “Behold, I make all things new”. The “very good” of Genesis 1:31 is now about to become “perfect”, so much so that the next words from the throne are uttered to counter John’s increasing astonishment—“these words are true and faithful”. Yes—it’s all true—God will prove faithful and everything will be renewed for ever!
Once this has been achieved the one on the throne is able to say, “It is done” (v6). The work set out in the beginning has been finished (cp Gen 2:1; John 19:30), and in verses 6–8 we are now presented with the closing scene at the final judgment. The omega and the end have now been reached, the last thirsty soul is now being offered the water of life and the manifestation of the Father is now about to be completed. Those who have overcome, and this requirement will still be valid for the mortal population during the millennial age, will inherit all things and be adopted into the family of God. But those who are to be rejected, the fearful, the unbelieving and the evil doers, will never see light again.
As the theatre of judgment recedes into the background John is invited to behold the bride-city in closer detail in verses 9 and10. The view is from a similar vantage point as that experienced by Ezekiel thousands of years before (Ezek 40:1,2).
No detail is too fine to miss. It is a precious sight to gaze upon. No longer is the glory restricted to the most holy place; it is everywhere within the city. It is like seeing the sparkling of a gem in the sunlight as every constituent part refracts the glory of God. John saw a resemblance to a flawless jasper stone, which was first noted in 4:3 as belonging to the king himself. The whole city is now a reflection of that king.
The gates and walls were immense making their defences impregnable. Each of the twelve gates had the names of twelve tribes and were guarded by special messengers. Each of the massive foundation stones had the names of the twelve apostles. Here is the Israel of God built upon the foundation of Truth laid down by the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone (Eph 2:19–22).
Like Ezekiel of old, John was invited to measure the dimensions of this unique spirit city and in doing so he found the structure was a perfect cube (v16). This ratio was only ever seen in the past when the most holy was constructed. Hence we are being told that the Israel of God have reached the perfection and beauty of physical and spiritual holiness. They are “pure gold”. They are of perfect stature “according to the measure of a man”, Christ Jesus (Eph 4:13). How different all of this to the man of Revelation 13:18!
Imbedded into the foundations are “all manner of precious stones”. Here is Yahweh’s special treasure, a reflection of the glory that once was associated with the high priest’s breastplate. So whilst the city is uniform in so many ways, here is a description of its diversity. No two gems are alike. They are dug out of the earth and then carefully cut and polished. What a wonderful way to describe the humble origins of each brother and sister and what a graphic way to portray the end result of God’s work with us.
The distinction under the law between holy and most holy has now disappeared with the construction of this city. John saw no “temple” (or most holy place as the word signifies), “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the nave of it” (v22). There was no need either for political or ecclesiastical dominion over a mortal population, hence the record goes on to say, “and the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it” (v23).
Which kind of people make up the final building blocks of this structure? To answer the question we need to appreciate that John looks back over the past millennium and describes the effect that this metropolis had on the world. Receiving immortality is likened to entering the city in verse 27 and under this metaphor John is told about several classes of people who come in contact with the city but only one class which enters into it.
Not all who know about the city are invited into it. Take for instance the nations at large in verse 24 out of which the redeemed were saved. They are content to walk in the light of the laws that emanate from Zion (Isa 2:1–5), but they proceed no further. Then there are the kings of the earth who bring their glory to the city in subservience (Isa 60:3), but this is as far as they reach. Then there are those who outwardly seem to conform to the light of the city but in reality they are nothing but defiling liars. It is only the last class that John sees invited into the city. These are “they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (v27).
The Water of Life
Drawing once again upon the concluding scenes of Ezekiel’s prophecy, the angel delivers his final vision to the aged apostle. When the temple is established at the start of the future age a river of life will burst forth from beneath the altar and flanked by life giving trees will wend its way into a renewed Dead Sea. This scene becomes the basis for the symbols in the last chapter of the Apocalypse.
Everlasting life from God is likened to a pure river emanating from the throne. The nations will need to believe that this king was once a slain and resurrected Lamb, and he is the source of life in that future age. It is no different than today. He is the way, the truth and the life. What then is the role of the saints? They are like individual trees of righteousness, the wood of life, through whose fruits and substance the world can be healed (v2).
All this leads us to the end when “there shall be no more curse” (v3). Whilst the Lamb is the focal point of the city, those who find entrance therein are still called servants; but they will have this wonderful honour—they shall see him face to face, as he is (v4; Heb 12:14; 1 John 3:2). They are perfect reflections of his character and they derive their light and glory from him.
Behold, I Come Quickly
John heard the angel confer a final blessing upon those who keep and guard the spirit and essence of this book (v7). Once again the aged apostle was overcome with emotion at being offered the privilege of hearing and seeing these visions. He fell upon his face in homage and once again the angel gently rebuked him.
In the epilogue to this wonderful book the angel commands John not to seal the sayings of the prophecy of this book. The visions of this book were to be left open for all to read and ponder. How blessed we are that we have been given an understanding through the labours of faithful brethren in the past.
But we must remember that “the time is at hand”. One day the account of our lives will be frozen, as it were, and whatever state the Lord finds us in at that time will be the state in which we are judged. “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still… and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still” (v11).
The Lord is about to return and reward us according to our works. There is perfect justice in this arrangement. Those who sow to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption and those who sow to the Spirit shall receive everlasting life. “Blessed are they that do his commandments”, said the Lord to John, “that they might have right to the tree of life”.
He speaks with absolute authority because he is both the root and offspring of David as well as the bright and morning star. His origins were of God, he came in the flesh but his final glory is as radiant and dominant as the morning star. It is no wonder then that the book should close with an urgent appeal. “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (v17). The reward is glorious, but we must first drink deeply of the water of the Word. There is no other way. We cannot add or subtract from the obligations of this book. We cannot select those parts we feel comfortable with and ignore those parts that are less palatable. The water has to be drunk deeply.
“Surely I come quickly”, testified the Lord. There is very little time standing between us and the Lord’s imminent return. He is making his final preparations. Some of the angelic host are busy gathering the nations together for the final conflict, others are calling the last few candidates into the fold. How much longer can it be, we wonder? Surely our time of opportunity has almost passed. May we contemplate with awe the future glory that awaits us if we are faithful. May we strive to enter into that rest. May we learn to desire that coming with all our heart. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”