Thursday, December 31, 2020

Revelation and The Holy City

"I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband" (Revelation 21:2).

Chapters 21–22 of Revelation set forth a new heaven and a new earth, with a new Jerusalem in their midst. The New Jerusalem is said to be the bride, the church of God. God is in her midst, dispensing His bounty to all who come for it. The wicked are kept outside.

There are two general ways of interpreting these chapters. Most Christians automatically assume that these chapters describe the future world, the consummation of the ages, after the second coming of Christ. After all, we see a new heaven and a new earth. The city that is described is too amazing to be built in this present universe. And this vision comes after the vision of the Last Judgment in chapter 20.

Some have suggested that perhaps the new heaven and new earth refer to the coming of the new covenant in Christ at Pentecost. The city of New Jerusalem is specifically noted as having gates, and people are invited to enter, which will not be the case after the Last Judgment (Revelation 21:13; 22:17). The leaves of the city’s trees are for the healing of the nations, again something that will not be necessary after the Last Judgment (Revelation 22:2). Finally, we notice that Hebrews 12:22 says that we have already come to the New Jerusalem.

The way to reconcile these two interpretations is to recognize that the new heaven and earth, and the New Jerusalem, are “already, but not yet” present. Spiritually speaking, in Christ we surely are already in the new heaven and earth, because if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The New Jerusalem is the church, and we are in her now. We offer the water and the fruit of the trees to all people, to heal the nations.

But the total fullness of these things has not yet come to pass. The glories that we take by faith, and now experience only in part, we shall experience by sight in all its totality in the world to come. There will be a transformed universe, an external “new heaven and earth.” The eternal city of God will transcend in glory the symbols used in Revelation 21–22 to point to it, and we will be with Him for ever and ever.

As you finish this year and approach the next, ask yourself how (or if) you have attained more of the “already” in 2020. Pray that God would use 2021 to bring you still closer to Himself. Remember that each day you are one day closer to beholding the fullness of the kingdom.