As John’s apocalypse comes to its conclusion, he goes out casting an amazing vision for the ultimate future of God’s people—and speaking as he did originally into the oppressed reality of his readers, what a way to end! For them, this presentation of eternity with God is a total flip of the script. No longer would there be any separation from God; no more tears, suffering, pain, persecution or even death. Their hardscrabble life would be replaced by the incredible, almost indescribable glory of God’s presence in a place where he is making everything new (just this statement alone for the first recipients of this letter had to bolster their faith). They will be completely and totally provided for, perfected and protected. It is the new heaven and new earth, the New Jerusalem, the holy city God has prepared for them. In it are only those who follow the Lamb, all others are excluded. We can only imagine the impact such a vision had for those suffering under the brutal Roman oppression. It is not just a fitting way to finish the story, but contextually, the only way. John has led them through the progressions of God’s assurances, his promises, his judgments against Rome along with the final judgment, now all that is left is the realization of the promises—heaven itself—forever with God, along with a reminder that there is still work to do and an invitation extended for all to do it. As these two final chapters unfold, they are filled with several allusions to Old Testament promises and demonstrate one last time that no Babylon (Rome or any other nation) regardless of how ferocious it seems, is any match for the God of heaven and the Lamb that was slain.
- New Jerusalem. While this exact phrase is only used within the Revelation, the idea of a new heaven and new earth is found elsewhere in the Bible (Isaiah 65:17-25; 2 Peter 3:10-13). John sees this city descending out of heaven as a bride prepared for her groom. It is a depiction of the sum of God’s people—the church (so-to-speak) of both covenants coming together with Christ to live forever in the presence of God as God brings about a totally new dwelling from the old, wiping away all of the former suffering. Pause just for moment to consider the opening of this chapter—the impact these words would have had on his original audience. Even now, in the absence of that level of persecution, we are encouraged and emboldened by this promised reality. When God stated, “I am making everything new,”—that should be a game changer for all Christians of any generation. No longer will the current rules apply. No longer will Satan have a say. No longer will we be limited in any way. New Jerusalem is just that incredible.
- It is for those who overcome. John makes sure to convey to his readers that this amazing vision is coming directly from God himself—the Alpha and Omega. This is his domain and it is only reserved for those thirsty for him; those who have overcome the persecution. It is not for the persecutors—the unbelievers and cowardly, etc. Their destiny lies with the dragon who deceived them—the second death—eternal separation outside of the protection of God. They have no power or even presence there. New Jerusalem is only for those who follow the Lamb.
- The City. Next John describes this Holy City in vivid, brilliant detail. One of the seven angels gives him the grand tour. The city is equated to the bride of the Lamb, and again, represents God’s people from both covenants—with both the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles prominently displayed within. As beautiful and breathtaking this description is, it is all meant to be symbolic. It is pointless to try to take the measuring literally. The use of the precious stones, the measuring, the number of gates—everything here both depicts the majesty of God and the complete way in which all within will be provided for and protected. It is also meant to convey the complete opposite experience from what John’s first readers were experiencing. No longer downtrodden. No longer bound by Roman aggression—in New Jerusalem they would see and experience a reality that even Rome in its prime could not even begin to match or imagine. For instance, the city of Rom had some marvelous architecture and temples, but none could compare to the splendor of what John is describing. Actually, in New Jerusalem there is no temple. None was needed because of the brilliance of the presence of God and the Lamb. They illuminate the city—no temple to a Caesar or any pagan god could ever even come close. And, John reminds once more—it is only reserved for those who the Lamb knows—who are in his book of Life. From all nations those in this book will flow into the city—through the open gates (indicating access—no one will ever be prevented from seeing God—even his face!) praising God through their own particular cultures—a beautiful scene indeed. This is the amazing, breath-taking, perfect city of God, John is shown—reserved for those, like his readers, who been faithful unto death.
- There is a garden too. It surrounds a river—the river of Life. The earth itself is renewed in New Jerusalem with no more curse to burden it (see Romans 8:20-22). The garden provides all of the provisions needed for the city’s inhabitants—yielding its fruits every month bringing continual healing and blessings. Certainly, this is a call back to Eden (Genesis 3; Ezekiel 47), but it is also so much more. It is a step forward as well (Isaiah 2; Zephaniah 3). Beyond even what Eden offered, it is the place where all nations will live in harmony praising and serving the God who dwells among them—with the throne of God and the Lamb securely in the midst of the city providing all of the light ever needed. Here the Lamb’s followers will reign with him—forever. This is a picture of the new humanity who will be partnered with God to rule over his creation much like he originally desired (Genesis 1:27-28). What an almost unbelievable juxtaposition for those first century Christians in those seven churches to even imagine based upon their circumstances. But yet this was real—the trustworthy and true words of God. It was the culmination of all of God’s promises of hope and victory.
- “Soon take place.” This conveys the urgency of the message because of the urgent condition of those who first heard the message. God had heard their cry and was acting upon it. This is why the angel informed John not to seal the book—the time for God to act was near. We must not confuse the language here—the entire Revelation was written in answer to the persecution of these first century Christians. John begins it by stating as much (1:3) and ends it the same way. These statements then speak to how the content of the book was originally and primarily for that generation—that God was bringing about the end of their suffering while also revealing to them the glory that awaited. In this, he declares a blessing on all who heed and keep the words of the Revelation—for all who take to heart the promised deliverance of God and remain faithful while waiting for that day. These are not just the words of John or even an angel, but of God himself and when he does come—when the message of the book is made known it will find people right where they are, which will be revealing in its own right because everyone will then know whose belongs to God and who does not—no more hiding behind the power of the Roman shield. Again, it is Jesus who is speaking to the churches—guaranteeing this as truth.
- Come! So, the same Spirit that the churches were to hear is now partnered with the Bride compelling all to come—to accept God’s invitation to follow the Lamb, not the beasts nor dragon. Only by doing so could complete fulfilment be found. Rome had nothing like the water of life—only drinking of it could end thirst. No mistake this invitation is here at the end of the book after all had been said—it was God’s appeal to those Christians (and us) to not miss out on the blessings of New Jerusalem.
- And one last warning. This book was not to be parsed (as was the custom with Jewish apocalyptic literature). Every part of it was essential and if anyone thought otherwise—it was to their peril. This was John’s way of emphasizing the overarching vital nature of the Revelation. Read it all. Believe it all. Find hope in it all. God is coming to the rescue soon!
And so, ends not just the Revelation, but the entire narrative of the Bible. It ends with a message of great assurance—for those living under Roman oppression—and for Christians of every generation. It is the Lamb that was slain that conquers and will always conquer. Every human kingdom can (and likely will) become a corrupted Babylon, but Jesus will not allow any to have the final say. His is the promise of “everything made new,’ which delivers God’s complete justice while offering the Lamb’s followers an eternity of his provision, protection and presence—all we could ever hope for and more!
So, the Bible starts with us in the presence of God—enjoying intimate fellowship and freedom from sin only to be interrupted and corrupted by Satan and his schemes along with the fallout that has and continues to create. But then the Bible ends with the real promise of us being once again fully in God’s presence enjoying an even greater reality in the new heavens and new earth with Satan vanquished forever. It is the story of redemption, which enabled a generation of Christians to stand against the Babylon that was Rome and will continue to enable us and any generation of Christians to be faithful unto death against whatever Babylon comes next. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”
*Recourses used in the study include Worthy is the Lamb by Ray Summers; Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary by Homer Hailey; The Apocalypse: A Revelation of Jesus Christ by Donald R. Taylor; The Wonder Book of the Bible by Lee G. Tomlinson; and the bibleproject.com Revelation presentations.