Commentators sometimes argue based on Revelation 21:2; 21:22; 22:2; and 22:15 that the New Jerusalem is just the Christian church on earth and it is not at all a description of heaven. This I strongly believe is false. Revelation 21:2 has been addressed in Revelation 21: A Preterist Commentary. The next bit of evidence is found in Revelation 22:2. This verse says that the tree of life in the city is for the healing of the nations. Some commentators argue that this cannot be a description of heaven because they question why someone would eat or need healing in heaven. Yet in 2 Enoch 8:1-3 Enoch is taken to the third heaven and there he explicitly says that he saw the tree of life. And in confirmation of 2 Enoch 8:1-3 the New Jerusalem which contains the tree of life is explicitly said to come down from heaven in Revelation 21:2.
Is there eating in heaven? In Luke 22:15 Jesus says that He will never again eat the Passover meal until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of heaven. The feast that Jesus refers to in Luke 22:15 is elaborated upon in Matthew 8:11: “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Of course the kingdom of heaven is more than just heaven (Luke 17:21). However, one might ask how it is that someone on earth can eat or drink whether literally or purely spiritually with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob if these patriarchs are in heaven after the resurrection? When Jesus says that many people from the east and west will take their places in a feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, how could this point to anything other than literal fellowship between the new and the old covenant saints in heaven? And if this fellowship truly does take place in heaven after the resurrection as Jesus implies in Matthew 8:11, how can one say that there is no eating (whether literally or purely spiritually) in heaven? Perhaps the eating and drinking mentioned in Matthew 8:11 is purely figurative or spiritual as the drinking of the water of life in Revelation 21:6 appears to be? And if the eating mentioned in Revelation 22:2 is figurative or spiritual, it follows that the healing that occurs as a result is also figurative or spiritual.
Similarly in Luke 22:29-30 Jesus says, “And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” As I explained in the commentary on Revelation 6 it could be said that the saints judged the twelve tribes of Israel in an earthly manner when they prayed for vengeance for their unjust deaths in Revelation 6:9-11. Therefore, maybe one could say that the judging of the twelve tribes mentioned in Luke 22:29-30 was fulfilled on earth? But if this judgment if purely earthly, how could the apostles be said to be seated on twelve earthly thrones? Though as founding fathers of the Christian church, the apostles were and are eminent men in the church, the thrones upon which the apostles sit and judge the twelve tribes mentioned in Luke 22:29-30 also appear to be heavenly ones. In 1 Corinthians 6:3 Paul writes, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” If the apostles are not truly eminent beings in heaven after the resurrection who are able to judge angels, how could they be so revered by the church throughout its history? The thrones upon which the apostles sit in Luke 22:29-30 appear almost certainly be heavenly thrones. And if these thrones are heavenly ones, then according to vs. 29-30 it follows that there must also be some type of eating and drinking in heaven. Now whether this eating or drinking is literal or purely symbolic is, of course, impossible to know just as we cannot know whether the tree of life upon which this fruit is produced in Revelation 22:2 is a literal tree or just a symbol of the kingdom of heaven itself.
The next argument that the New Jerusalem cannot be a description of heaven is found in Revelation 22:15. Here it says that outside the New Jerusalem are “the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” These sinners mentioned in Revelation 22:15 are outside of the New Jerusalem because they are in the lake of fire according to Revelation 21:8: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” Is the lake of fire somewhere in heaven? Why is this evidence that the New Jerusalem is not a description of heaven? Of course evil doers are not in heaven. Obviously these people must be somewhere outside of heaven.
Arguing that the New Jerusalem is just the church on earth, one preterist commentator says that Revelation 21:22 is “proof” that the New Jerusalem is not a depiction of heaven since there is mention of a heavenly Temple in Scripture.1 This same reasoning can be used to refute the idea that the New Jerusalem is just the church on earth. Verse 23 says that in the New Jerusalem there is no sun or moon: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” Of course there still exists a sun and moon on earth during the Church Age.