|Inside the Book of Revelation
New Heavens and New Earth
Revelation 21:1 through 22:5 Perhaps the most enigmatic parts of Revelation are the book's last two chapters. These describe "the new heavens and new earth," "the new Jerusalem" and "the tree of life." When do the "new heavens and new earth" appear? In Revelation, they appear in time order after the Millennium and Great White Throne Judgment described in Chapter 20.
The term "new heavens and new earth" is found, as we saw, in II Peter. Speaking of spirit — begotten Christians — those who will be part of the Bride of Christ — Peter says, "We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (Il Peter 3:13). The present earth and heavens are said to be "reserved for fire until the day of judgment" (verse 7).
In II Peter, the new heavens and earth appear after "the elements melt with fervent heat" (verse 10). It is a time after "both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up" (verse 10). This seems to refer to the lake of fire mentioned in Revelation 20:14-15. In time order, then, the "new heavens and the new earth" would appear after the 1,000-year-period and the final judgment.
The term "new heavens and new earth" is found in only two other places in the Bible, in Isaiah 65:17-18 and 66:22. In the 66th chapter, the term is used as an example of that which endures forever, without reference to time. "'For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,' says the Lord, 'So shall your descendants and your name remain"' (Isaiah 66:22, italics added). If anything, this passage would indicate the new heavens and new earth come after the Millennium, the latter being then in progress as described in verses 12 through 24.
In Isaiah 65:17 we again read of this time. God is pictured as saying: "I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy" (italics added). The new heavens and new earth are again used as a model of permanency.
The New Jerusalem There is also the "new Jerusalem" to consider. Interpreters have held differing opinions as to what it is. Some say this new Jerusalem is a real city. Others claim it is only an allegory of the perfected and eternal Church. The Bible, no doubt, contains elements of both.
For example, we read, "Then I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2, italics added). Similarly, John hears an angel speak of the new Jerusalem in these terms: "Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife" (Rev. 21:9). The Bride of Christ can be the saints made perfect. It is so called in Revelation 19:7-9. Here the new Jerusalem does appear as a type of the perfected Church.
The Church is called the Jerusalem "above [that] is free" (Galatians 4:26). True Christians are told, "You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:22). The "builder and maker" of this city is God (Hebrews 11:10).
The new Jerusalem as an analogy of the immortal saints would stand in stark contrast to that of the deceived people in today's system, Babylon the great. Babylon is the wicked harlot and the new Jerusalem is the holy city of God. Babylon is full of evil (Rev. 18:2); the new Jerusalem is pure (Rev.2l:27). Commentator G.R. Beasley-Murray has written that Revelation "may be characterized as A Tale of Two Cities, with the sub-title, The Harlot and the Bride."
As an allegory, the new Jerusalem is utopia personified. It represents God's kingdom and rule, one in which happiness and abundance exist. During this era of perfection the pain of this present life is ended. Revelation tells us: "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21:4).
It is a time and place in which God's way is supreme. "There shall by no means enter it [the holy city] anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie" (Rev. 21:27). God's laws permeate all creation. The new Jerusalem represents an ideal new world order under God's direction.
A literal City? However, the Bible presents the vision of new Jerusalem as though it is a literal city. New Jerusalem as an actual city would be an incredible place, indeed. The measurement of the city, as given in the vision, would make new Jerusalem about 1,400 miles (2,100 kilometers) long in each direction (Rev. 21:16)! The exterior wall is 144 cubits or about 200 to 300 feet high (verse 17). It is a city, not a building, and its dimensions arc equal or proportional.
Here are some of its characteristics, given in Revelation, chapter 21:
• The new Jerusalem comes to a new earth, for the old one has passed away (21:1-2).
• The city has a great and high wall with 12 gates. These contain the names of the 12 tribes of Israel (27:12).
• The city has 12 foundations with the names of the 12 apostles (21:14).
• Precious stones such as sapphires, topaz and emeralds adorn the city (21:18-20).
• Each city gate is formed from an incredibly huge pearl (21:21).
• The city streets are made of pure gold, giving them a transparent appearance (21:21).
• There is no temple in the city, because God and the Lamb are its temple (21:22).
• There is no night in the city. The city needs no sun or moon. God and the Lamb illuminate it (27:23, 25; see also 22:5).
• Only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life can enter the city (21:27).
Some have wondered when the new Jerusalem itself appears on earth, especially if it is to be an actual city. The Apocalypse tells us it arrives after the first heaven and earth have passed away (Rev. 21:7-2).
Notice that God himself is present in this city (Rev. 21:3). John hears God say, "I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5). The new Jerusalem, therefore, represents God's headquarters for a great work which he has for his resurrected saints, once his purpose with mankind is completed.
The River and Tree of Life The first five verses of Revelation 22 emphasize a special part of the new Jerusalem. John is shown a "pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev. 22:1).
Along the river, John sees the "tree of life" whose leaves are "for the healing of the nations" (verse 2). In the final chapter, Jesus tells his servants, "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city" (Rev. 22:14, italics added).
There are similarities between the healing water of life that John saw and the millennial vision the prophet Ezekiel experienced. Ezekiel wrote: "In the visions of God He took me into the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain; on it toward the south was something like the structure of a city..." (Ezekiel 40:2, italics added).
In his vision, Ezekiel saw water flowing from under the threshold of the temple. Along the river, which healed everything it touched, were many trees "of life" — similar to John's vision (see Ezekiel 47:1-12).
The "tree of life" symbol is first introduced in the early chapters of Genesis. In chapter three, verse 24, mankind was barred from access to the tree of life — a symbol of God's Holy Spirit and the gift of eternal life. Adam had sinned, disobeyed his maker and had spiritually disqualified himself. Humans have continued to sin and remain barred from access to the "tree of life."
In Revelation, we see salvation offered to all those willing to keep God's commandments. The way to the "tree of life" is no longer blocked to the obedient. Repentant humans from all nations are able to enter into a relationship of love and obedience with God. That is the clear teaching of Revelation 22. Thus, Revelation comes full circle and heals the breach between man and God which started with Adam shortly after creation. Revelation, the last book of the Bible, reverses humanity's walk toward death, begun in Genesis.