This is a sort of ‘addendum’ to the Revelation Fulfilled? article
Yes you read the title correct: WHO (not what) is the New Jerusalem?
To answer this, you must ask yourself: who is the Bride of Christ?
If you answered “the Church” (as in, the body of believers, not buildings) then you’d be correct as they are both one and the same!
Maybe you’ve always wondered why the Church is called the “bride”? Well, let’s examine some Scriptures and see!
2 Corinthians 11:2
I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
Here is Paul pleading with the Corinthian church to stay pure and true to the Gospel message they received, like a virgin on her wedding day; and also true to Jesus, as he is the husband of the believers.
Again, we see Paul use this imagery of marriage in terms of Christ and his Church in the letter to the Ephesians. Paul is teaching them (and us) on how to conduct ourselves within the bonds of marriage with the instruction for husbands and wives to lay down their lives for one another in love; this is also the analogy of how Jesus relates to his Church:
Ephesians 5:24-25, 32
Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.
What has this got to do with the New Jerusalem?
Now when it comes to verses on the New Jerusalem, most people read the first two verses of Rev 21 and stop there, assuming that because it is called “the new Jerusalem” and “the holy city” that it must be an actual, brick-and-mortar city.
But the description doesn’t stop there.
Keep reading past Rev 21:1 and see how the Bride is described:
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. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Then 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 in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
Here we see the new heaven and earth, with the “holy city” – the new Jerusalem – coming down out of heaven.
Next we see that the new Jerusalem IS the bride of Christ.
So, if the Church/body of believers is the bride, and the new Jerusalem is also the bride – then they must be one and the same, and therefore symbolic of the physical reality of what the Church is! Unless of course you believe Jesus will be getting married to a literal city...
This vision of the new Heaven and Earth isn’t talking about a doing away with the current, physical realm, no; it’s a beautiful, poetic image of the marriage between God and his people – of the new way of the world now that Christ has accomplished his goal: defeating death and ushering in the New Covenant!
This is God showing that things work differently now. No longer is he only found in a temple, or a specific holy place (a lá John 4:21) – now he lives with us and in us!
This is why everything is new! Heaven will never be the same again, and neither will the Earth! God has set up a new temple where he dwells permanently now: in us, the Church!
Everything is New!
If we go back to Paul’s letters for a moment and read 2 Corinthians, we can see that this is what Paul was getting at too. He had grasped this and was desperately trying to get it across to the Corinthian church. Oh, how slow are we on the uptake too?
2 Corinthians 5:17-19
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
If we are “in Christ” then WE are that new creation! Hence why, in the preceding verse, Paul writes that we should “regard no one from a human point of view” if they are believers.
Through Christ, God was reconciling the world back to himself. Paul again picks up on this theme in Colossian 1:19-20, where he says that “God was pleased” to reconcile all things to himself, whether “on Earth or in Heaven” – in other words, all of Creation.
Going back to Rev 21 in verse five, this theme continues where “the one on the throne” declares: “See, I am making all things new.”
But what does “reconcile” really mean? The dictionary definition would be “the restoration of friendly relations”.
If God was now on friendly terms with “all things” in heaven or Earth, and has given us the “ministry of reconciliation” as “co-workers with Christ” (1 Cor 3:9), then why would God just destroy it all in fire and start afresh? Seems to counteract those “friendly relations” doesn’t it?
As we can see from the following quote, this view isn’t new and was around in the second century as something which was taught by one of the more prominent early Christian theologians:
"For if the heavens are to be changed, assuredly that which is changed does not perish, and if the fashion of the world passes away, it is by no means an annihilation or destruction of their material substance that is shown to take place, but a kind of change of quality and transformation of appearance. Isaiah also, in declaring prophetically that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, undoubtedly suggests a similar view."
– Origen (2nd Century), Principles, 2:6:4
The Holy City
With that in mind, let’s examine the rest of the description of the New Jerusalem. Verse three continues to build on the conjoining of the Heaven and Earth imagery:
See, the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them
God coming down to live in and with his people isn’t some new concept just found in Revelation either; we see this mentioned quite frequently in the New Testament:
Jesus answered, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.
You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.
2 Timothy 1:14
Guard, through the Holy Spirit who lives in us, that good thing entrusted to you.
But Christ was faithful as a Son over His household. And we are that household if we hold on to the courage and the confidence of our hope.
1 Corinthians 3:16
Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you?
All of these verses about those in Christ being the dwelling places or the temple of God is reason why there is no need for a sanctuary in the New Jerusalem – because God now dwells within us! We are the temple!
I did not see a sanctuary in it, because the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its sanctuary.
The whole city is now a sanctuary unto the Lord, his glory fills it up. We can even see this prophesied way, way back in the Old Testament as far as Leviticus and Ezekiel:
I will place My residence among you, and I will not reject you.
My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be My people.
But both of these verses come with similar stipulations to what Jesus said about he and the Father making their home in those who believe in Jn 14:21 – if God’s commandments are kept, then he will come and dwell in and with us, if not, he won’t.
I’ve quoted this before in one of my previous articles on the Olivet Discourse, but I’ll show it again as the letter of Barnabas is one of the earliest texts we have outside of the New Testament, and so reflects a very early view from the Early Church period and the theology surrounding a new temple.
"Again, it was revealed how the city and the temple and the people of Israel should be betrayed … For it is written, ‘And it shall come to pass, when the week is completed, the temple of God shall be built...in the name of the Lord.’ I find...that a temple does exist. Having received the forgiveness of sins…in our habitation God dwells in us….This is the spiritual temple built for the Lord.”
Examining the rest of the description of the New Jerusalem, the link between the symbolism of the body of believers as a temple and holy structure from the Epistles becomes clearer, as we can see from Ephesians.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
Contrast this with Rev 21 again:
And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
And again, just before this verse, the description of the surrounding walls are named after the tribes of Israel:
It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites
Could these walls represent the righteous Israelites who came before? Those in whom God found favour, or those who kept his commandments and upheld the Law now uphold and guard this “city”?
Those faithful of old who the writer of Hebrews, in chapter 12, calls a “great a cloud of witnesses” which surround us – much like these walls surround the holy city.
What type of Kingdom?
Many people today believe and expect Jesus to physically come back to Earth and set up a kingdom and throne in the actual city of Jerusalem, and reign from there for exactly 1000 years.
That is despite his kingdom having “no end”, as the angel Gabriel said to Mary in Luke 1:33 (cf. Dan 7:27). Why reign physically and temporarily, if only to end it and carry on reigning spiritually in heaven?
But if the Kingdom is within us (Lk 17:20-21) and has come upon us by the power of the Gospel (Lk 11:20), and if the body of believers are the New Jerusalem and also reign with Christ (2 Tim 2:12; Eph 2:6), does that leave room for any of this being a literal new planet Earth, or a literal and gigantic city floating out of the sky?
We can also see from records about Domitian's persecution (~96 AD) that he feared the coming kingdom like Herod did. But when quizzed, the Christians said it was not an earthly one they were waiting for, but a heavenly one (though admittedly, they were still waiting for it to come at the end of time itself).
And when they were asked concerning Christ and his kingdom, of what sort it was and where and when it was to appear, they answered that it was not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly and angelic one, which would appear at the end of the world, when he should come in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and to give unto every one according to his works.
– Eusebius, Church History, Book 3, ch. 20.6
This seems to be in keeping with what Paul wrote, when he said “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" in 1 Cor 15:50.
The similarities between the epistles, when they write about the Kingdom, and the New Jerusalem continue even when speaking of those who won’t enter it! The continuity across the Scriptures is a testimony unto itself at times, it really is quite amazing if one takes the time to look.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.
Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
It’s worth pointing out here that if the New Jerusalem really is a literal city on a brand new planet Earth, after the judgement etc. – then who are the people outside of it?
There is one passage in Revelation which talks about reigning on Earth, though. But it isn’t Jesus doing it, not physically at least.
You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth.
Who are the “they” mentioned in this verse? All those who were “redeemed for God by [Jesus’] blood” (Rev 5:9, cf. Rev 1:6)! This is also a fulfillment of what Daniel foresaw in his visions:
But the holy ones of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess it forever, yes, forever and ever.
But it doesn’t stop there: again in Rev 22 when the holy city is being described in some more detail, John writes that there is a river of “living water” flowing from the throne of God, lined with the Tree of Life on either side, where God’s people “will reign forever and ever” (Rev 22:5). These references to being a “kingdom” and “priests” harkens back to what Peter also wrote about in 1 Peter 2:9.
Leaves for Healing
There’s an important “clue” here about the nature of this city in the way the Tree of Life is described and its purpose – similar to what I pointed out a few paragraphs ago:
The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse.
Firstly, if this New Jerusalem appearing as a literal city is the culmination of world history after the judgement, second death, sheep and goats etc (in other words – there’s no one left except for God’s own people), why then do the nations still need healing?
Secondly, and maybe the most striking detail, is the mention that there will no longer be any curse. All throughout Scripture, there is one main thing which is always referred to as a “curse” – death (sometimes also synonymous with sin). And that is precisely what Jesus liberated us from by his own death on a cross!
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us
While I recognise that the general (and possibly majority) view in the early church was of a literal, earthly millennial reign (at least until the fourth century when it began to be condemned and viewed metaphorically), I can't help but see the imagery of the New Jerusalem as a spiritual and figurative description of our present, physical reality as a body of believers in Christ.
But maybe it is both. Spiritually true now of the Church, and a more complete and realised state in the future? Or maybe the later Christians were right and the strictly literal interpretation was just spread by uninformed people which took hold in the teachings of the church (as some of the later writers assert).
I'm not exactly sure where I stand on the millennial reign, but I've done my best to present a thorough study of the New Jerusalem which falls under that general area of theology.
I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
- Eusebius: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.viii.xx.html
- Barnabas: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/barnabas.html
- Origen: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/04121.htm