The New Jerusalem exists Now according to the Bible and Near-Death Experiences
A Preterist Commentary on Revelation 21: Summary and Highlights
The New Jerusalem is the victorious Church. Why is the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22 (i.e. the victorious Church) depicted as a city with streets of gold? The Church is labelled the “kingdom of heaven” by Jesus in the Gospels and is populated by believers who are “not of the world” (John 17:16) and “strangers and exiles on the earth,” (Heb 11:13) because their “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Remember Revelation is extremely symbolic. Rather than simply calling the Church the kingdom of heaven, John describes the Church in the image of the literal kingdom of heaven, the heavenly Jerusalem of Galatians 4:26 and Hebrews 12:22. Revelation 21 and 22, like the rest of Revelation, is poetry. Just as old Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem are pictured as opposites, a whore and virgin respectively. In Revelation old, wicked Jerusalem is portrayed through its burning in the image of hell (Rev 19:3) and the New Jerusalem is portrayed again as its opposite by being depicted in the image of heaven (Rev 21-22).
The new Jerusalem like the Temple IS quite literally a microcosmic representation of the new heaven and new earth predicted in Revelation 21:1. In other words the New Jerusalem is the kingdom of heaven (aka the Chruch). Accounts of heaven from near-death experiences strikingly resemble the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21. Throughout Revelation 21 and 22 the triumphant Christian church whether it exists in heaven or earth is portrayed in the image of the Jerusalem that is in heaven because the Church according to Jesus is the kingdom of heaven whether His people reside on earth or in heaven after the resurrection. Largely because the Christian church is present both on earth and in heaven and because the Christian church on earth is destined for heaven, the new Jerusalem is the church described in the likeness of heaven. Thus Revelation 21 and 22 follow the precedent set in Ezekiel 28 and 37 in which earthly realties are portrayed in heavenly trappings.
There is also historical significance to this imagery. For a 1000 years after the Jewish War, Jerusalem grew to become an almost exclusively Christian city. Thus the fact that the Christian church on earth is called the new Jerusalem is an appropriate title. Since the new Jerusalem is the Christian church reigning on earth it, of course, represents the Christianized Jerusalem that was on earth during the thousand years between the Jewish War and the Crusades. The peaceful bliss of post-war Jerusalem is meant to contrast the then present joy with the previous despair of war. The new Jerusalem is also described as a utopia in order to symbolize and mirror the Jerusalem that is in heaven awaiting the saints after the resurrection.
Revelation 21 Preterist Commentary Intro: The New Jerusalem is the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the commentary on Revelation 12, we see that the woman in heaven that gives birth to the Messiah is a virgin woman who embodies the heavenly Jerusalem mentioned in Galatians 4:26: “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” Thus the heavenly Jerusalem who is depicted as a virgin woman is the opposite of apostate Jerusalem which is depicted as a prostitute (Rev 17). The fact that both Jerusalems are opposites (i.e. a whore or virgin) is meant to highlight the righteousness of one Jerusalem and the wickedness of the other. We see the heavenly Jerusalem referred to again in Revelation 21:2. Here the heavenly Jerusalem is seen coming out of heaven now as the virgin bride of Christ (2 Cor 11:2, Revelation 21:2).
This connection between the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 12 and its reappearance in Revelation 21 and 22 sheds light on why the New Jerusalem is depicted as a city of gold with immense splendor. Recall that all of the various kingdoms in Revelation are portrayed in symbols. For example, the Roman empire and its emperor are pictured as a many-headed sea monster (Revelation 13); apostate first-century Jerusalem is depicted as a whore, the Whore of Babylon (Revelation 17); and the heavenly Jerusalem is depicted as a virgin (Revelation 12). Rome and its emperor are not literally a beast with several heads. First-century apostate Jerusalem is not literally a prostitute. And the heavenly Jerusalem is not literally a virgin woman. Similarly, the New Jerusalem that is on earth is not literally a city with streets of gold. The Jerusalem that has streets of gold is presumably the Jerusalem that exists in heaven (Gal 4:26, Heb 4:26).
The New Jerusalem is the victorious Church.1 Why is the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22 (i.e. the victorious Church) depicted as a city with streets of gold? The Church is labelled the “kingdom of heaven” by Jesus in the Gospels and is populated by believers who are “not of the world” (John 17:16) and “strangers and exiles on the earth,” (Heb 11:13) because their “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Remember Revelation is extremely symbolic. Rather than simply calling the Church the kingdom of heaven, John describes the Church in the image of the literal kingdom of heaven, the heavenly Jerusalem of Galatians 4:26 and Hebrews 12:22. Revelation 21 and 22, like the rest of Revelation, is poetry. Just as old Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem are pictured as opposites, a whore and virgin respectively. In Revelation old, wicked Jerusalem is portrayed through its burning in the image of hell (Rev 19:3) and the New Jerusalem is portrayed again as its opposite by being depicted in the image of heaven (Rev 21-22).2
The New Jerusalem is the Messianic Kingdom which Jesus frequently calls the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven throughout the Gospels. The kingdom of God is also called the kingdom of heaven in the Gospels because it is centered in heaven. Though centered in heaven with God’s throne (Isaiah 66:1), the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God is also present on earth amidst its people, the saints as stated in Luke 17:20-21: ‘“Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.’” Here we see that according to Luke 17:20-21 the kingdom of heaven as it is embodied on earth by its believers is not an observable or visual kingdom so that one could point to it and say, “There it is!” Luke 17:20-21 challenges the notion that the Messianic Kingdom is a visible, geopolitical, earthly kingdom where Jesus rules physically in an earthly Jerusalem. The Messianic Kingdom is far broader and more expansive than that. The kingdom of heaven (aka the Messianic kingdom) is a spiritual kingdom with the heavenly Jerusalem as its capital where Jesus rules over heaven and earth at the right hand of God in heaven. According to Mal Couch, the Dead Sea Scrolls “continually refer to the coming messianic kingdom in which the Messiah’s rule encompasses both heaven and earth.”3 Thus the New Jerusalem is the Messianic kingdom, the new heaven and earth of Revelation 21:1, and the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven.
The descent of the New Jerusalem from heaven represents the fulfillment of the Lord’s prayer: “[Y]our kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In Revelation 21:2 when the Jerusalem that is above descends to earth we see God’s “kingdom come” (i.e. the kingdom of heaven) and we see God’s will being done on “earth as it is in heaven.”
Revelation 21 Preterist Commentary Intro: The New Jerusalem is the New Temple.
The New Jerusalem coming down from heaven in Rev 21:2 is also Temple imagery. Recall that there is no Temple in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:22) because the New Jerusalem itself is a Temple (Rev 21:3, 16, 22; 22:1-2). The New Jerusalem is the victorious Church occupying heaven and earth and the Church is a Temple (2 Cor 6:16). As suggested in Hebrews 8:5 and Psalm 78:69, the Temple in Jerusalem appears to be a symbolic model of heaven and earth with the inner sanctuary of the Temple being a copy and shadow of what is in heaven (Hebrews 8:5; 9:24-26). G. K. Beale writes the following concerning the fact that the temple in Jerusalem was a symbol or model of heaven and earth:
[T]he OT temple was a microcosmic model of the entire heaven and earth. One of the most explicit texts affirming this is Ps. 78:69: “And he built the sanctuary like the heights, like the earth which he founded forever.” Josephus understood the tripartite structure of the tabernacle to signify “the earth [= outer court] and the sea [= inner court], since these . . . are accessible to all, but the third portion [the holy of holies] he reserved for God alone, because heaven also is inaccessible to men [before the resurrection]” (Ant. 3.181; cf. 3.123).4
The fact that the New Jerusalem is seen coming down from heaven (v. 2) also seems to hint to the New Jerusalem as a “representation of the cosmos”5 (heaven and earth) just as was the Temple in Jerusalem. Remember the kingdom of heaven is a term that refers to both the literal, heavenly kingdom of Jerusalem (Gal 4:26) as well as the Church on earth (Luke 17:20-21) in the same way that the Temple is a model of heaven in its inner sanctuary and the earth in its outer courts (Hebrews 8:5; 9:24-26).
Because of this Temple imagery, the New Jerusalem is often correctly understood to symbolize the Church.6 Indwelt with the Holy Spirit, every member of the body of Christ, according to 2 Cor 6:16, is said to be a temple of the living God. Therefore, the temple described in this chapter also represents the Christian church in heaven and earth. And just as the spirit of God was believed to be present in both the Holy of Holies of the Temple as well as in heaven during Old Testament history, the spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is also present in heaven as well as in the hearts of the modern church, the new Temple of God, on earth.
Just as the Temple was a microcosm of heaven and earth, the New Jerusalem, the new Temple of God, is the new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1). The idea that the New Jerusalem is the new heaven and earth makes sense since after the resurrection in A.D. 70 the saints dwell in both realms, heaven and earth. The heavenly Jerusalem is mentioned in Hebrews 12:22 and Galatians 4:26. Hebrews 12:22 reads, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,” Galatians 4:26 also mentions a Jerusalem that is in heaven: “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” The fact that there is a Jerusalem that is in heaven suggests that the Jerusalem on earth is a dark shadow of the Jerusalem that is above in the same way that the inner sanctuary of the Temple is a dark shadow of heaven according to Hebrews 8:5: “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”’
The Jerusalem on earth is also a dark shadow of the glorious Jerusalem that exists in heaven. The fact that the victorious church is called the New Jerusalem at the end of Revelation is an appropriate title since the Jerusalem that is on earth—like the Jerusalem in heaven–grew to become an almost exclusively Christian city during the thousand years between the Jewish War and the Crusades. Therefore, given the fact the Christian church permeated the Jerusalem that is above and the Jerusalem on earth during the first thousand years of the New Covenant, it is no surprise that the New Jerusalem is described as a microcosm of heaven and earth.
This idea that the Temple in Jerusalem was a microcosm of heaven and earth was not unique to just the Temple in Jerusalem: Seemingly all Temples of the ancient world were believed to be junctions between heaven and earth. The fact that the heavenly Jerusalem of Hebrews 12:22 and Galatians 4:26 is said to come down from heaven in Rev 21:2 appears to be more Temple imagery. This descent of heaven to earth depicts the New Jerusalem (i.e. the Church) as the New Temple of God and as such is necessarily a junction between heaven and earth as was the Temple in Jerusalem prior to its destruction in A.D. 70 and perhaps all Temples of the ancient world.
Revelation 21 Preterist Commentary Intro: Because the Church is Both on Earth and in Heaven and because the Church on Earth is destined for Heaven, the New Jerusalem is the Reigning Church described in the likeness of Heaven.
In Ezekiel 28, Ezekiel predicts ruin for the king of Tyre, a prophecy likely fulfilled in the sixth century B.C. However, while predicting the fall of this earthly king, Ezekiel describes this event as if describing the fall of an angel from heaven:
“Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. . . . You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. . . . You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. . . . So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings (Ezekiel 28:12-17).
Revelation 21 also describes earthly things in heavenly imagery. As stated above, the New Jerusalem is the Christian church which literally and historically reigned over the earth after A.D. 70. Hebrews 12:23 says that the church has its names “written in heaven.” Because the Christian saints are destined for heaven after physical death, the church, of course, exists presently in heaven and earth. And because the church exists in heaven and earth, the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22 is a visionary depiction of the church (i.e. the kingdom of heaven, and the Messianic kingdom) as it exists in both realms. In other words, as previously explained the New Jerusalem is the new heaven and earth mentioned in Revelation 21:1 (see Does “Heaven and Earth” REALLY Just refer to the People of Earthly Israel?)
Revelation 21 Preterist Commentary Intro: The New Jerusalem is Given This Name So as to Contrast it With the Whore of Babylon Which is Old, Apostate Jerusalem.
New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22 is given this name so as to contrast it to the old, apostate Jerusalem7 called the whore of Babylon earlier in John’s vision (see Revelation 17: A Preterist Commentary). God divorces His previous wife, the Whore of Babylon, because of her adulterous affair with Rome, the beast, depicted in Revelation 17 so as to marry His new wife, the New Jerusalem (i.e. the kingdom of heaven). During the thousand years between Israel’s first-century war with Rome and the first crusade, the Battle of Gog and Magog, Israel and especially Jerusalem grew to become nearly exclusively Christian. Thus it is not a coincidence that the New Jerusalem depicted at the end of Revelation is symbolically portrayed as the Christian church/kingdom or God in Revelation 21 and 22. The New Jerusalem (i.e. the kingdom of heaven) is pictured in Christian imagery in large part because Jerusalem became exclusively Christian not long after Israel’s first century war with Rome.
Revelation 21 Full Preterist Commentary Intro: Descriptions of Heaven in many Near-Death Experiences strikingly resemble the New Jerusalem.
Very often people who have had near-death experiences (NDE’s) describe seeing cities of light of inexplicable grandeur much like the new Jerusalem. During an NDE, George Ritchie was “shown a distant city made of brilliant light. Its description resembled the city described in the Book of Revelation.”8 Don Piper, an ordained minister since 1985 had a similar experience. After being brought back to life after a near-fatal car accident, Don describes having seen a city of immense beauty strongly resembling the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21. In his book 90 Minutes in Heaven, he writes:
One thing did surprise me: On earth, whenever I thought of heaven, I anticipated that one day I’d see a gate made of pearls, because the Bible refers to the gates of pearl.9 The gate wasn’t made of pearls, but was pearlescent—perhaps iridescent may be more descriptive. To me, it looked as if someone had spread pearl icing on a cake. The gate glowed and shimmered. I paused and stared at the glorious hues and shimmering shades. The luminescence dazzled me, and I would have been content to stay at that spot. Yet I stepped forward as if being escorted into God’s presence. I paused just outside the gate, and I could see inside. It was like a city with paved streets. To my amazement, they had been constructed of literal gold. If you could imagine a street paved with gold bricks, that’s as close as I can come to describing what lay inside the gate. Everything I saw was bright—the brightest colors my eyes had ever beheld—so powerful that no earthly human could take in this brilliance.10
1Then I saw a new heaven and earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
A Realized Eschatological View of Revelation 21:1: The New Heaven and Earth Explained . . .
Given the fact that the Temple is a microcosmic representation of heaven and earth, it is not surprising that the Temple’s destruction in A.D. 70 occurred together with the destruction of heaven and earth. The passing away of heaven and earth is implied in Revelation 20:11. Here the earth and sky fled from the presence of God “and there was no place for them.” The destruction of heaven and earth is also described in Revelation 6:12-14. In these verses, the sky recedes like a scroll and the stars fall to the earth as an indication of the destruction of heaven. Then in v. 14 “every mountain and island was removed from its place.” The removal of the mountains, which often represent cities and kingdoms throughout the Bible (Psalms 2:6; 48:1; Isaiah 66:20; Jeremiah 51:25; Joel 3:17), is another way of expressing the fact that the land was made desolate, resembling the earth at its creation in Genesis 1:1—without form and void. After the Romans conquered Judaea, they left its “mountains” or cities burned and destroyed to such an extent that Josephus says little sign of these settlements remained. After the passing away of heaven and earth, God creates a new heaven and earth. This destruction and recreation, fulfilled in the Jewish War, is depicted throughout the Book of Revelation in such a way as to mirror Genesis 1.
Preterism and Revelation 21:1 Commentary: Heaven and Earth were Destroyed Several Times in Biblical History. Whenever a Nation was Conquered by Another, the Bible often Poetically portrays this Conquest as the Destruction of Heaven and Earth itself.
The destruction of heaven and earth is often understood to mean that God is going to destroy the whole world and rebuild a perfect one in its place. However, the destruction of heaven and earth did not just occur at the eschaton. When a nation was subjugated or conquered by another, the Bible often poetically portrays this conquest as the destruction and subsequent creation of heaven and earth itself. For example, when the Hebrew slaves subjugated and conquered the land of Canaan, this conquest is described in Isaiah 51:15-16 as the creation of heaven and earth:
But I am the Lord your God, who divided the sea whose waves roared [at the crossing of the Red Sea during the exodus]—The Lord of hosts is His name. I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, that I may plant the heavens, lay the foundation of the earth, and say to Zion, “You are My people.”
Furthermore, in Ezekiel 32:7-9, Isaiah 13:9-13 and Isaiah 34:4-5 the fall of Babylon, Egypt and Edom which was fulfilled in the sixth century B.C. is described as the destruction of heaven and earth itself. If a kingdom was defeated by another the Bible often poetically portrays this conquest as the destruction of heaven and earth. For a comprehensive explanation of the destruction of heaven and earth in the first century in addition to a description of the first century signs that fulfilled Biblical prophecies concerning the destruction of heaven and earth see The Destruction of Heaven and Earth and the New Heaven and Earth Explained!. Also see The Covenantal Significance of the Destruction of Heaven and Earth.
Revelation 21:1 Preterist Commentary: “Let there be Light!”
According to Josephus, just before the Jewish revolt on the eighth day of Nisan a miraculous light lit-up the night such “that it appeared to be bright daytime.”11 This light appears to be an omen pointing to Genesis 1:1-3: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light . . .” Is this light in the darkness mentioned by Josephus a presage of the light that separated day from night in Genesis 1:3-4? Could this miracle be a sign of the imminent creation of a new heaven and earth?
Preterism, and Revelation 21:1: The Fact That there is “No Longer Any Sea” in Revelation 21:1 is Probably Not Literal as a River is Mentioned in Revelation 22:1.
According to Revelation 21:1 in the New Jerusalem “there was no longer any sea.” The fact that there is a flowing river in Revelation 22:1-2 implies that “sea” is not being used literally in this verse. But if “sea” is a symbol, what does it symbolize?
Revelation 21:1 Realized Eschatology Commentary: Within the Temple in Jerusalem which Symbolized Heaven and Earth (Psalm 78:69) was a Large Bronze Bath called the Sea. The Fact that there is No Longer Any Sea in Revelation 21:1 may point in Part to the Fact that at the Destruction of the Temple, the Romans Carried the Sea Away as Plunder.
The fact that v. 1 predicts that there will no longer be any sea at the creation of a new heaven and earth also points to Genesis 1. But before addressing the link between Genesis 1:9-10 and the fact that there is no longer any sea in Revelation 21:1, let us briefly turn our attention again to the Temple in Jerusalem. As stated above, the temple in Jerusalem was a microcosmic model of heaven and earth (Psalm 78:69). Within this temple was a large bronze bath called the Sea. When the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, the Roman army took the Sea and brought it as plunder to Rome.12 Since the Temple was a microcosmic model of heaven and earth, the fact that the sea was taken away by the Romans at the destruction of the Temple, a symbol of the old heaven and earth, is an earthly symbol of the fulfillment of the destruction of heaven and earth and the fact that there was no longer any sea at its destruction.
Revelation 21:1 Covenant Eschatology Commentary: The Metaphorical Flood Created by the Conquering of the Earth, Judaea, by the Sea, Rome, points to the Pre-Creation Water World of Genesis 1:2.
The earth is represented by Palestine and the sea, by Rome throughout the Book of Revelation. This symbolism thus portrays the conquest of Palestine by Rome as a metaphorical flood. This flood signifies the water world of Genesis 1:2 that the Spirit of God moves over before the creation of the earth. See In the Bible “Earth” Signifies the Specific Land Addressed While “Sea” Symbolizes Foreign Nations.
Preterism and Revelation 21:1 Commentary: The Fact that “there was no longer any Sea” hints at Genesis 1:9 and the Receding of the Metaphorical Flood Waters to Create the New Earth.
The fact that there is “no longer any sea” represents the separation of the waters to expose the new earth in the same way that the earth was created by the separation of the waters in Genesis 1:6-9.13 See How and Why the Imagery of Zechariah 14 Intentionally Mirrors Genesis 1:1-10.
A Preterist View of Revelation 21:1: The Fact that “there was no longer any Sea” also hints at the Reconciliation of Jew and Gentile.
The second point made at the end of v. 1 may also concern the unification or reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in Christ. As stated above, earth symbolizes Judaea and sea, the Gentile nations in the Book of Revelation. The Israelites were to be a nation of priests, a holy people. They were to remain separate from the Gentiles as the land is from the sea. In this way, they would not be defiled and led astray by the unclean ways of the surrounding people. Perhaps the fact that there is no longer any sea representing Gentile nations in v. 1 also hints at the fact that the Gentiles are no longer unclean? The fact that there is no longer any sea may be an indication that all people, not just Jews, are invited into the kingdom of God as stated in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Revelation 21:1 Full Preterist Commentary: Lastly, the Fact that “there was no longer any Sea” Symbolizes v. 4: “There will be no more Death. . . .”
Lastly this verse may also fulfill 1 Corinthians 15:26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Recall that in addition to representing the Gentile nations, sea also represents death, Hades and the Abyss throughout the Book of Revelation. See The Poetic Biblical Link Between “Sea” and “Abyss”. The fact that there is no longer any sea appears to also symbolize what is literally stated later in v. 4: “There will be no more death. . . .”
2I 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 Preterist Commentary: The New Jerusalem is the Church Victorious.
As stated above, the new Jerusalem represents the church. In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul writes, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” In order to marry the church, God would have to divorce His previous wife, the unfaithful of the Jewish old covenant community, as He had done in Jeremiah 3:8 and Isaiah 50:1 during the Babylonian invasion. Revelation 17 presents the unfaithful people of Jerusalem as an adulterous wife. Jerusalem is said to be an adulteress in order to make the divorce lawful. According to Matthew 5:32, anyone who divorces his wife except for cases of marital unfaithfulness causes her to become an adulteress. Because of her adulteries, Jerusalem was given her certificate of divorce; and in Revelation 21:2, God marries the Christian church, the New Jerusalem. Duncan W. McKenzie makes the following interesting point concerning the marriage of the New Jerusalem, the church, after the destruction of the old Jerusalem and its Temple symbolizing the old covenant:
[O]ne of the reasons given for the breaking of the glass at Jewish weddings is that it is in remembrance of the A.D. 70 destruction of the Temple. This is most appropriate. As Revelation 19:1-9 shows, the destruction of the Temple happened at the time of a wedding.14
See The Wedding of Revelation 21:2 Echoes 2 Esdras 10:48 in which the Entry of a Woman’s Son into His Wedding Chamber Symbolizes the Fall of Jerusalem. (See Does Rev 21:2 imply that the New Jerusalem is Sinless?) (See Arguments that the New Jerusalem cannot be a Description of Heaven Addressed.)
3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Revelation 21:3 Commentary, A Preterist Interpretation: The New Jerusalem is the Church Described in the Likeness of Heaven.
As indicated in Exodus 25:8 and Ezekiel 43:6-7, God is believed to have resided in spirit within the Holy of Holies of the Temple. The above verse is a virtual quote of Leviticus 26:12. In this verse, God is said to walk among His people and be their God because of the presence of the Temple among them. The interesting thing about the new Jerusalem is that there is no temple within the city (Revelation 21:22). This is because the whole city is the temple. In this temple city, God freely dwells in spirit with His people as He had within the Holy of Holies of the first and second temple.
Jesus promised His people that after His death they would be indwelt with the Holy Spirit of God. In this way, every member of the church has become a temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16) similar to the temple in Jerusalem in which God was thought to dwell in spirit. This idea is explicitly stated in 2 Corinthians 6:16: “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’”15 The fact that this verse is fulfilled on earth by the presence of the Holy Spirit within the hearts of the saints is a dark earthly shadow of the literal fulfillment of this verse in the Jerusalem that is in heaven mentioned in Galatians 4:26. It is here that God literally dwells with His people after death.
4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:4 Commentary, A Preterist View: The Fact that there is no more Death means that the Dead in Christ are now raised to Heaven immediately without having to await Redemption in Sheol, the Land of the Dead. In Heaven there is no more crying or Pain.
Reflecting the bliss reserved for those in the presence of God in heaven, the Christian refugees returning from Pella resettled in Judea likely overwhelmed with joy that the war had ended.16 With the war over, in a way, there was no more death, sorrow or pain. The elation of the saints returning home mirrored that of the Jewish exiles returning home from Babylon in Jeremiah 31:12. Here the prophet writes, “[T]hey will sorrow no more.” A similar lack of sorrow is linked to the entry of the Hebrews into the Promised Land according to Isaiah 51:10-11:
Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over? Those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away [emphasis mine].
Is there any precedence in ancient near-eastern literature to support the above interpretation? Yes. Similar, language is used in the Legend of the God Khemu, the Egyptian version of the seven-year famine recorded in Genesis 41. Concerning the end of this famine the Legend of the God Khemu uses similar hyperbole: “Misery shall pass away, and the emptiness of their storehouses of grain shall come to an end.”17 Notice that misery passes away at the end of this famous seven-year famine. This does not mean that people did not or do not still experience misery for other reasons. This passing away of misery just means that people no longer experience misery as a direct result of that specific famine. I believe the same message is implied in Revelation 21:8. There is no more tears, death or mourning in Revelation 21:8 for similar reasons–the war had come to an end.
The Christian church shares in these promises. The prophet Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would carry their sorrows (Isaiah 53:4). As a result, the believer is left with joy in the Holy Spirit, as stated in Romans 14:17 and John 15:11.
This promise of no more mourning, crying or pain which is fulfilled on earth in the joy in the Holy Spirit is merely a shadow of the literal fulfillment of this promise in heaven. Adding to the joy of the believer is the promise of eternal life in heaven through Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross (John 17:3). Because of this sacrifice, there is no more death as the old order has passed away.
In Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah looks ahead to the New Jerusalem with the words: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.” The New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22 opens with a nearly identical expression in Revelation 21:1: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” Though Isaiah 65 was likely fulfilled at the return of the Jews from exile in the sixth century B.C., this chapter prefigures and serves as a model of the New Jerusalem of Rev 21 and 22. Interestingly, in Isaiah’s description of the new Jerusalem that is on earth, he explicitly indicates that there will still be physical death. Isaiah 65:20 reads, “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.” Thus when Revelation 21:4 states that in the new Jerusalem “there will be no more death,” this death is not physical death, it is spiritual death.
Before Jesus’ death for the remission of sins, the Old Covenant saints had no perfect sacrifice to cleanse them from sin and the resulting scourge of spiritual death which is separation from God in heaven. Thus these saints were confined to Sheol, the realm of the dead, after physical death. Sheol is spiritual death because it is a realm of darkness and separation from God in heaven. Sheol, the afterlife realm of death, is often just translated death in the Bible. Prior to the seventh trumpet and the concurrent resurrection, the saints had to await their redemption in Sheol before they could receive their inheritance in heaven (Daniel 12:13). The fact that there is no more death in v. 4 means that after the seventh trumpet, the saints no longer have to wait in Sheol before they are allowed to enter heaven. Many of the dead are now immediately resurrected to heaven after death, and it is here that there will be no more death or “mourning or crying or pain.” Because of Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross, there is no more spiritual death as the old order has passed away. See 1 Corinthians 15:50-54 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: Preterism, the Rapture and the Resurrection. For an explanation of how Jesus fully erased the curse of death and its implications for answering a common objection to old earth creationism see Why Isaiah 65:20 and Related Verses Imply that Physical Death Preceded the Fall of Man.
5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8But 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. This is the second death.” 9One 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.” 10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
Revelation 21:11 Preterist Commentary: The Crystalline Beauty of Heaven is Commonly Reported in Near-Death Experiences.
In v. 11, the heavenly Jerusalem is said to shine with the brilliance of a precious jewel. Describing the crystalline brilliance of heaven, one near death survivor writes, “In the distance I saw a sight so magnificent and astounding—a city made up of what seemed to be glass or crystal! The lights were of many colors that radiated from it.”18
12It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south, and three on the west.
The new Jerusalem has three gates at each point of the compass verifying Jesus’ testimony in Luke 13:29: “People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
14The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long.
Preterism and Revelation 21:16 Explained: The Christian Church like the Temple is a Shadow of Heaven and Earth.
Verse 16 indicates that the New Jerusalem is a perfect cube similar to the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 6:20). The Holy of Holies of the Temple was where God was thought to reside in Spirit and as such was believed to be a symbol of heaven, the literal and true throne of God. The fact that the Holy of Holies is a copy and shadow of heaven is implied in Hebrews 8:5: “They [the Levitical priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” Since the Holy of Holies of the Temple represented heaven, the fact that the New Jerusalem is described as a perfect cube just like the Holy of Holies bolsters the idea that the New Jerusalem is the kingdom of heaven, aka the Church. Like the Temple which is a microcosm and symbol of heaven and earth, the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22–which is the Church–is itself the new heaven and earth since the Church is the new Temple of God. Like the New Jerusalem in v. 14, the church is also depicted as a temple built upon the foundation of the twelve disciples in Ephesians 2:19-22:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. [Emphasis mine.]
In the vs. cited above, we see that the Christian church is the new Temple and as such is a new heaven and earth.19 And just as God was believed to reside in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, He now resides in the hearts of the saints through the Holy Spirit.
Preterist Interpretation and Revelation 21:17-21 Commentary: A Description of Heaven in another Near-Death Experience . . .
In the next four verses, John describes a golden city surrounded by walls decorated with all kinds of precious stones. One survivor of clinical death portrayed heaven in much the same way:
I saw a golden city with towers like European castles. The whole city seemed to be shining with light that shot up into the sky like a giant searchlight. I could see that some of the domes of the city were red, others were gold, and a few were blue. The gates and walls of the city seemed to be made of bright blue, red, and violet lights.20
17He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man’s measurement, which the angel was using. 18The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.
In these verses, the walls of the new Jerusalem are adorned with twelve precious stones similar to the twelve stones worn on the high priest’s breast piece (Exodus 28:15-21). In addition, the new Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, is described as a city of pure gold with gates of pearl. In comparing these five verses with Revelation 17:4 it seems clear that the author of Revelation intends to contrast the city of Babylon with the new Jerusalem. In Revelation 17:4 the city of Babylon is also adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls. The clothing worn by the whore of Babylon is meant to be a clue to her true identity as God’s ex-wife—old adulterous Jerusalem.
22I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
The fact that there is no temple in the city means that there is no literal, physical temple since the LORD and Christ are said to be the temple in v. 22. Of course, the Father and Son are not literal temples. As stated above, the New Jerusalem is a description of heaven and earth as the saints on earth who are destined for heaven after death occupy both realms after A.D. 70.
The New Jerusalem that is in heaven (Hebrews 12:22, Galatians 4:26) presumably has no temple after A.D. 70 because the whole city is the Holy of Holies this is why it is depicted as a cube (Revelation 21:16) just like the Holy of Holies. The fact that there is no Temple in the New Jerusalem mirrors the fact that there is also no Temple in earthly Jerusalem as it had been destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. Revelation 21:22 indicates that Christ, the Lamb, is the Temple as is echoed in John 2:19-21. If Jesus is the temple in the New Jerusalem then since the saints are the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27-31), the saints are also the temple of God as is stated in 2 Corinthians 6:16. Thus the New Jerusalem that is on earth also has no physical temple because the church, the Body of Christ, is the Temple.
23The 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. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.
Revelation 21:23-24 Preterist Commentary: God is a Being of Light.
According to Psalm 72 and 89, the sun and moon are celestial signs of royalty.21 In v. 24, God and the Lamb are the sun and moon. There is more to this symbolism then what has been stated above. Describing the likeness of God, Ezekiel writes:
Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him (Ezekiel 1:26-28).
Christ’s appearance before Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9:3-9 and the author of Revelation in Revelation 1:12-16 was quite similar. Here Jesus appeared before both men radiating brilliant light. The sun and moon are apt symbols for beings whose heavenly likeness illuminates like that of the sun. Independent attestation of the beaming radiance of God in heaven is found in the testimony of one near death survivor:
As we walked along to find Jesus, I noticed there was one building larger than all the others. It looked like a football stadium with an open end to the building where a blinding light radiated from it. I tried to look up at the light but I couldn’t. It was too brilliant. Many people seemed to be bowed in front of this building in adoration and prayer. I said to my parents, “What is that?” They said, “In there is God.”22
In confirmation of Ephesians 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 12:2 near-death experiences confirm that there is more than one heavenly realm. Each heavenly realm or vibratory zone as it is called in the NDE literature contains a different world of light increasing in grandeur and luminosity upon ascending to higher heavenly realms. Visions of these cities are a common near-death experience. V. 25 indicates that there is no night in this city; there is no night here because the city itself is constantly alight. In this city of heaven, the gates are always open to allow the continuous influx of saints as the Messianic age continues through the age of ages.
26The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Revelation 21:27 Realized Eschatology Commentary: The Dual Fulfillment of Revelation 21:27 in the Jerusalem on Earth and the Jerusalem in Heaven . . .
As stated above, the New Jerusalem represents the kingdom of heaven which is present both on the Jerusalem on earth and the Jerusalem in heaven (Galatians 4:26). Once populated by ethnic Jews, Judea was 95% Christian by A.D. 614.23 This was, in a large part, because of the expulsion of many Jews after the Jewish War and the second Jewish revolt, the Bar Kokhba Rebellion. After the second Jewish revolt in order to eliminate the possibility of future insurrections, Hadrian ordered the exile of the remaining Jews in Judea. After this war, few Jewish settlements remained with the exception of three areas in the Jordan valley.24 Jerusalem was then renamed Aelia Capitoline and racial Jews were not permitted to approach the city upon threat of execution.25 At the end of the fourth century with Jews still only allowed in the city one day a year, Jerusalem became an exclusively Christian city, the only one in the country.26 The fact that Jerusalem grew to become an exclusively Christian city during the thousand years between the Jewish War and the Crusades literally fulfills Revelation 21:27: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” The fact that the Jerusalem on earth grew to become an exclusively Christian city during the Thousand Year Reign is an earthly reflection of the exclusively Christian nature of the Jerusalem that is in heaven as is implied by John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Thus in this way the Christianized earthly Jerusalem became a true earthly mirror of the Jerusalem that is in heaven. And in this Biblical and historical reality one can see how the church truly did grow to reign over both heaven and earth quite literally during the thousand years between the Jewish War and the first crusade.
In the next chapter, the Book of Revelation comes to a close and with it the Bible itself. In Revelation 22, John continues his description of the new Jerusalem. After describing the richness of the temple city, John’s vision ends as it began with an interaction with an angelic messenger. Here one of the angels of the seven last plagues promises the eminent return of the Messiah and with Him the beginning of a new and glorious age.
**NOTE** This is a NEW website. If you liked this article share it, like us on Facebook and follow on Twitter. Thank You!
Interested in THE PRETERIST VIEW OF ESCHATOLOGY, or are you a PRETERIST struggling with a prophecy or verse? It DID happen just like the Bible says! If you liked this essay, see PRETERIST BIBLE COMMENTARY for a detailed explanation of the FULFILLMENT OF ALL MAJOR END TIME PROPHECIES IN THE BIBLE. The more unbelievable the prophecy, the more amazing and miraculous the fulfillment!
Also see Historical Evidence that Jesus was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. For an explanation of how the end of the age and its fulfillment during the Jewish War mirror Genesis 1-3; how the Bible teaches that the resurrection of the dead is a resurrection of heavenly bodies to heaven, not a resurrection of perfected earthly bodies; and how the resurrection is a mirror opposite of the fall see How the Jewish War and Resurrection to Heaven Mirror Genesis and the Fall; and How Preterism fixes the Age of the Earth Problem and unravels the Mysteries in Genesis.
Commentary on Revelation 21: Conclusion
In this fulfilled eschatology commentary on Revelation 21, the reader is once again exposed to evidence from the Bible and NDE’s that the new Jerusalem is a symbolic depiction of the church that had populated post-war Jerusalem described in the likeness of heaven.
- Though it seems that the new heaven and earth is the New Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem is the Christian church, it must be clearly stated that the New Jerusalem is more than just the Christian church. Citing 2 Peter 3:13, Jim McGuiggan astutely points out that the new heaven and earth cannot simply be the Christian church. In 2 Peter 3:13 Peter addresses the church by saying that “we” look forward to a new heaven and earth: “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells [emphasis mine].” If the church is looking forward to a new heaven and earth, then, of course, the new heaven and earth cannot just be the Christian church. (Jim McGuiggan, The Book of Revelation, (Lubbock, TX: International Biblical Resources, Inc., 1976), 319.) Rather, the New Jerusalem, the new heaven and earth, is the church during its triumphant reign in heaven and earth.
- I believe the reason that post-war Jerusalem is sometimes described as a utopia is not just to contrast the present joy and peace with the previous despair of war but also to use Jerusalem as a poetic illustration of its heavenly counterpart (Heb 12:22, Gal 4:26).
- Mal Couch, Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996), 266, cited in Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology, third ed. (USA: Apologetics Group Media, 2009), 149.
- G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013), 1109-10.
- Lewis Mumford, The City in History, (London: Secker and Warburg, 1961), 31, cited in Gordon Strachan, Christ and the Cosmos, (Dunbar, Scotland: Labarum Publications Ltd, 1985), 5.
- Citing 2 Peter 3:13, Jim McGuiggan argues that the new heaven and earth cannot simply be the Christian church. In 2 Peter 3:13 Peter addresses the church by saying that “we” look forward to a new heaven and earth: “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells [emphasis mine].” If the church is looking forward to a new heaven and earth, then it would seem that the new heaven and earth cannot be the Christian church. However, a similar message is conveyed concerning the kingdom of God. In Luke 17:20-21 Jesus says, “[T]he kingdom of God is in your midst.” And yet in Mark 9:1 Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” The kingdom of God is the Church according to Luke 17:20-21 and yet the kingdom of God grows (Luke 13:18-19) until it reaches a point in which it “comes with power.” The point in which the kingdom of God “comes with power” is the time of the new heaven and earth. Thus the new heaven and earth is the point in which the Church (i.e. the kingdom of God) “comes with power.”
- Jim McGuiggan, The Book of Revelation, (Lubbock, TX: International Biblical Resources, Inc., 1976), 320.
- www.near-death.com/experiences/research20.html (3/20/2008).
- Revelation 21:21.
- Don Piper and Cecil Murphey, 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life (Grand Rapids: Revell, 2004), 34-35.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.5.3.
- John Noe, Ph.D., The Greater Jesus: His glorious unveiling, (Indianapolis: East2West Press, 2012), 349.
- The fact that there is no longer any sea in v. 1 does not mean that there are literally no seas left on the earth but merely that the separation of the metaphorical waters made dry land appear such that there is no longer a vast sea covering the entire face of the earth.
- Duncan W. McKenzie, Ph.D., The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination Volume 2: The Book of Revelation (USA: Xulon Press, 2012), 292.
- See also Ephesians 2:19-22.
- Epiphanius Treatise on Weights and Measures 15.
- A Legend of the God Khnemu 22, cited in E.A. Wallis Budge, Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, Edited with Translations, trans. E.A. Wallis Budge (San Diego, CA: The Book Tree, 2008), 135.
- “The NDE and the City of Light: Kevin Williams’ Research Conclusions,” Ricky Randolph’s Account in http://www.near-death.com/experiences/research19.html (3/14/2008).
- Interestingly, the 12,000 square stadia representing the length and width of the city in v. 16 roughly approximating the size of the Hellenized world of which the Jews of the diaspora were scattered. (Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005), 552.)
- “The NDE and the City of Light: Kevin Williams’ Research Conclusions,” Randy Gehling’s Account in http://www.near-death.com/experiences/research19.html (3/14/2008).
- Interestingly, Roman emperors of the first century were often portrayed in the likeness of the sun god. On a first century coin, Caesar Augustus and Livia are depicted as the sun and moon symbolizing their imperial authority. (George Bradford Caird, “A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Black’s New Testament Commentaries (New York: Black and Harper & Row, 1966), 148 cited in Jacques M. Chevalier, A Postmodern Revelation: Signs of Astrology and the Apocalypse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 348.)
- “The NDE and Afterlife Realms: Kevin Williams’ Research Conclusions,” An Accountant’s Account in http://www.near-death.com/experiences/research20.html (3/20/2008).
- Thomas A. Idinopulas, Jerusalem Blessed, Jerusalem Cursed: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Holy City from David’s Time to Our Own (Chicago: Ivan R. Deer, 1991), 102.
- M. Avi-Yonah, The Jews of Palestine: A Political History from the Bar Kokhba War to the Arab Conquest (New York: Schocken Books, 1976), 16.
- Teddy Kollek and Moshe Pearlman, Jerusalem: A History of Forty Centuries (New York: Random House, 1968), 140.
- Ibid., 149.