The Blessedness Of The New Jerusalem - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
The description of the negative and destructive work of God's program is now finished.
There was a power of opposition whose principle was hatred against God, the Almighty Sovereign of heaven and earth. That power revealed itself first in heaven, when mighty Satan rebelled against God and apostatized with his angels. That same power was introduced into the world of men when Adam committed the principal sin, and, accepting the word of the devil, rose in rebellion against God. The development and action of that power of opposition has been pictured to us in the Book of Revelation. We have been shown how politically this power develops into a tremendous confederacy called "the beast out of the sea," aiming at the establishment of an antichristian kingdom. It has been revealed how scientifically and ideologically this power develops as the power of the false prophet, "the beast out of the earth," deceiving the minds of the masses. In the picture of the great whore and of Babylon we have been shown the ecclesiastical development of this power of opposition into the false church, the bride of the Antichrist. How all these powers ultimately constitute the powerful kingdom of Antichrist in its final manifestation, and how even the nations of Gog and Magog are deceived to rise against Christ and His people, - all this has been pictured to us prophetically.
But that power of opposition is completely vanquished. All the judgments implied in the seals and the trumpets and the vials were occasioned by the presence of this power of opposition. And at this point in the Book of Revelation the judgment and destruction of this power of opposition is complete. Babylon is destroyed. The Antichrist and the false prophet and the devil and all who have worshipped them have their place in hell. Gog and Magog have been overcome. Death has been judged. This aspect of God's program is finished.
However, with this negative result the Book of Revelation could not end. What remains is the picture of the positive result of all the work of Christ, the description of the glorious realization of all the promises of God, the final and everlasting reward of the righteous. This is presented in Chapter 21, verse 1, to Chapter 22, verse 5. In the passage we are about to discuss we have a general statement about the final glory. It speaks of the new creation, the New Jerusalem, God's tabernacle with men, and the blessedness of the eternal economy of things.
The New Jerusalem
In order to gain some conception of the meaning of this passage we must not rivet our attention on the external aspects of the state of final glory which is described here. There is a danger that we do this. When we think of our future salvation we are inclined to call before our minds first of all a beautiful heaven or a beautiful new creation in which all the misery of the present world shall be found no more; and the inner spiritual realities of that salvation tend to recede into the background. At first glance it might seem that the text leaves the same impression. John first beholds a new heaven and a new earth. Only in the second place does he mention the New Jerusalem and the tabernacle of God with men. This might leave the impression that the new heaven and the new earth are the most important elements in the vision. But this is not correct. The central idea of that state of final glory lies in the New Jerusalem and the tabernacle of God with men as these depict the internal, spiritual relation between God and His people which is the essence of all their bliss and of all the beauty of the final state. And in the passage under discussion not what is most important is described first, but what is naturally first. Just as in Genesis 1 we read first of the formation of the heavens and the earth, of the preparation of the abode of man and beast, and last of all of the creation of man, God's covenant friend, so here we are told first of the new creation and then of the New Jerusalem and the tabernacle of God with men. The order, therefore, is perfectly natural: the New Jerusalem and the tabernacle of God with men cannot come before the new creation is complete. But it is not that new creation as such, but the New Jerusalem and the tabernacle of God which constitute the central idea of the final glory and bliss of God's people.
We read in verse 2: "And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." John, therefore, beholds a city come down from heaven. Later this city is described in detail. But even now we must inquire into the meaning of this vision.
And then we must remember that this is a vision, and a vision of heavenly things. This should already caution us against thinking of a literal city. There are, indeed, those who maintain this and who claim that this must be taken in a literal sense. However, that is quite impossible. Against this idea is the text itself. For already in this present passage there is an indication that this New Jerusalem is the bride of the Lamb. This is also expressed in verses 9 and 10 of this same chapter: "And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, and I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God." The presentation is that the New Jerusalem and the bride of the Lamb are identical. Now the bride of the Lamb surely is not a city in the literal sense of the word. Against this literalism is also the development of Jerusalem in Scripture. As we have pointed out before, Jerusalem is manifested in a three-fold form. First of all, it was the capital of the old land of Canaan. Secondly, it is also the church of the New Testament in the broadest sense of the word. This is also very plain from Scripture, and I do not have to quote to corroborate this idea. But, in the third place, Jerusalem is also the perfected church, the bride of the Lamb in glory. This, therefore, is the idea of the text. Jerusalem here is not a literal city, but it is the church triumphant in perfect glory.
Concerning this New Jerusalem we may note, in the first place, that it is the perfect antitype of the old Jerusalem; it is the city of God now perfected and glorified. This is plain from more than one passage of Scripture. In Galatians 4:26 we read: "But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all." And in Hebrews 11:10 we read: "For he (that is, Abraham) looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." And in verse 16: "But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city." Of this same city we read in Revelation 3:12: "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name."
In close connection with the preceding stands the fact that this city is called the New Jerusalem, not merely Jerusalem. What does this mean, and what is the reason for it?
In answer to this question, we point out, in the first place, that the idea of Jerusalem was that it was the city of God. The idea of a city is that it is a social community, a commonwealth, in close fellowship (in distinction from a country), and under its own government. Thus Jerusalem was the city of God. There God dwelt among His Old Testament people Israel. From there He had communion with them; from there He blessed them with all the blessings of salvation as it was foreshadowed in the old dispensation. From Jerusalem He reigned over them and protected them against the enemies who were round about them. But we must remember that the earthly Jerusalem was imperfect. It is true that God dwelt among His people; but He did not dwell in them. The relationship in the old dispensation was more or less external. Nor did the presence of God fill the city: God dwelt in the temple, particularly in the most holy place. Hence, in the old dispensation Jerusalem existed only in a typical form.
That typical form of Jerusalem was ended through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His death the old Jerusalem passed away, as is evident from the fact that the veil of the temple was rent in twain. And the New Jerusalem is not merely the old city rebuilt; but it is the realization of that old city, the fulfillment of prophecy, the hope of the Old Testament saints. It is realized, first of all, in the church of the new dispensation in principle. The church in Christ Jesus is the holy city of the new dispensation. It differs from the city in its Old Testament form, first of all, in that it is not a city of brick and stone. The believers themselves are the dwellingplace of God. In the second place, the New Jerusalem differs in that God does not merely dwell among His people, but in them. Through the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ God dwells in their hearts; and therefore they have spiritual communion, are spiritually blessed. The Lord reigns over them from within.
But also this New Testament form of the New Jerusalem is still imperfect. This imperfection is due to the fact, first of all, that not the entire church is filled with God's presence. There are in the midst of the church as it develops in the world in the line of continued generations unbelievers and hypocrites. Moreover, the communion between God and His people, the believers, is not perfect: for sin still reigns in their members. Perfectly God dwells only in Christ. And therefore, the New Jerusalem is realized ultimately and fully in the perfected church triumphant. That perfect church, the church triumphant, is the perfect city of God. It is the holy city in the full sense of the word. In it is neither unbeliever nor hypocrite. In it there is no sin and no power of evil. It is perfectly consecrated to God. As such it is also beautiful, adorned as a bride for her husband, that is, Christ. Moreover, the New Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven. God is its author; and in its ultimate realization the New Jerusalem will perfectly reflect this divine authorship. And all that is of the earth, earthy shall be forever done away; the New Jerusalem will be perfectly heavenly, coming down from heaven to dwell on the new earth and thus to fill all the new creation.
The Tabernacle Of God
That this is actually the idea of the New Jerusalem is plainly shown by the voice from the throne which John hears, verse 3: "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God." This is undoubtedly the principle and the cause of the blessedness of the New Jerusalem. This great voice, whose author is not mentioned here, expresses emphatically the central idea of the New Jerusalem: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men." This idea is further explained in what follows: "and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God." The New Jerusalem, therefore, is the city where God dwells. And the idea of the great voice from heaven is that when the New Jerusalem shall have come down from God out of heaven, the tabernacle of God shall be with men, and the communion between Him and His people shall be perfected.
The tabernacle in the Old Testament is the type of God's fellowship with His people. Typically, in the tabernacle God and His people dwelt together under one roof. The idea, therefore, of the tabernacle is fellowship, the fellowship of God's covenant. And the idea of the tabernacle of God with men in the New Jerusalem is the perfection of the fellowship of God's covenant. That covenant, with its perfect fellowship of friendship, is now fully realized. God's people are perfectly like Him. They know even as they are known. They see face to face. This is the essence of the blessedness of the city of God. The tabernacle of God with men and the city, the holy city, are now identical and coextensive. This was not so in the old dispensation. As we have already indicated, God dwelt in the temple, or tabernacle, particularly; but His presence did not fill the city. It is not yet so in the new dispensation. Perfectly God dwells in Christ, and we in Him by faith. With us there is still sin and imperfection; and in so far the communion of God's covenant is imperfect. But in the new future the city shall be the tabernacle, and God's abode shall be with men perfectly and completely. We shall be like Him. And God shall dwell in all of us perfectly. He shall fill us, enlighten us, quicken our love, bind us to Himself with unbreakable bonds of everlasting friendship. And we shall know Him and love Him and serve Him and taste His goodness to the full.
This is also the ultimate realization of all prophecy. Thus, for instance, we read in Ezekiel 37:27: "My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people." And in Isaiah 25:6-8 the same is expressed: "And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it." And almost the entire sixtieth chapter of Isaiah refers to the same thing. Thus, for example, in verse 14 we read: "...and they shall call thee, The city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel." And in verses 18-20 the following picture of the blessedness of this city is drawn:
"Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise. The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended."
This goal of all prophecy is now reached, according to the vision. The perfection of God's covenant in Christ Jesus on the plane of the heavenly is attained. God will dwell with His people. They shall be His people in the special sense of the word, His peculiar people. And He shall be with them and be their God!
The Universal Scope Of The Final Glory
It is in connection with the central idea of the vision, that of the New Jerusalem and the tabernacle of God with men, that we must consider what is described in verse 1: "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea." The final glory, therefore, shall be universal in scope.
This new creation, too, belongs to the goal, the end, of all prophecy. Clearly already the prophecy of Isaiah speaks of this. In Isaiah 65:17 we read: "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind." Also in Isaiah 66:22 we read of this: "For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain." To this also the New Testament looks forward, as is plain from 11 Peter 3:13: "Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
We may notice, in the first place, that John beholds the old creation as having passed away. The first heaven and the first earth constitute the two main parts of the original creation as mentioned in Genesis 1:1. This earth, together with all its creatures, and the heaven, including both the firmament and all the heavenly bodies and the heaven of heavens, and therefore the whole created universe, shall pass away. This does not mean that the present heaven and earth are to be annihilated. From other parts of Scripture we learn that this is not true. And besides, the works of God shall not perish. But the first heaven and the first earth are under the influence of sin and of the curse. That first creation as it developed through sin and the curse and as it has been affected by all the works of sinful men cannot serve as the proper sphere for the New Jerusalem and the tabernacle of God with men. It shall pass away. Even the creature itself, according to Romans 8, awaits the day of the manifestation of the sons of God, the day which shall also be the day of the deliverance of the creation from the bondage of corruption. But although the present creation shall pass away, it will not be annihilated. It will be destroyed by fire. But even fire does not annihilate. Rather, the passing away of the old creation and the creation of the new is to be compared to the resurrection of the body. Even as in death the old body is not annihilated, so the old creation shall not be annihilated. And even as the resurrection body is not an essentially new creation, so the renewal of the universe is not an essentially new creation, not a creation out of nothing, but a renewal. Through the passing away of the old creation all that is of sin and of the curse shall be done away, and nothing of this present world will enter into the new creation. Old things are passed away
In this connection we may also consider the statement, "and there was no more sea." This would seem to leave the impression that there will be no more sea at all in the new creation. The Revised Version translates more literally and correctly, "and the sea is no more." The reference here is not to the sea of nations, as some have it. For although the sea sometimes has that significance in the Book of Revelation and elsewhere in Scripture, the present context forbids this interpretation. The text here refers literally to the sea, even as it refers to the heaven and the earth. The meaning of the text is not, however, that there will be no sea at all in the new creation. The reference here is rather to the old sea, even as the text speaks of the first heaven and the first earth. That old sea is no more. The sea as it was originally created, but as it came under the curse of sin and under the bondage of corruption, constitutes a barrier between nation and nation and between people and people; and as such it constitutes a dangerous element in the present creation. Hence, while there may very well be a representation of the sea in the new heavens and the new earth, that is, a new sea, the old sea will be no more. There will no more be a sea which causes separation in the new creation.
In the second place, the first heaven and the first earth shall be replaced by a creation which is radically new. As we have already remarked, this new heaven and earth will not be a creation out of nothing, but a renewal, a transformation. But it must be emphasized that the renewal shall be radical, a complete transformation. First of all, there shall be nothing of sin and the effects of sin in the new creation. There shall be no thorn and no thistle, no storm and no flood, no barren desert and burning sun, no destructive earthquake and terrible volcano. The old things are completely passed away. The creation shall be perfect, the fit abode of the perfected people of God. In the second place, all creation shall be united, and that too, in a higher unity than before. Heaven and earth and all things contained in them will be united in one, that is, Christ. Thus we read in Scripture in more than one place. In Ephesians 1:9-11 we are told: "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." And in Colossians 1:12, ff., we read: "Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." And then follows the passage which we have particularly in mind in this connection, a passage which speaks of the unity of all things in Christ: "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven." Heaven and earth, therefore, shall be united in Christ. The New Jerusalem shall have its abode on earth, yet it shall inhabit all creation. And the whole creation shall be heavenly, made like unto the risen Lord. In that new creation all things shall be perfectly adapted to serve the resurrected and glorified church in Christ, in order that we may serve our God and enjoy the fellowship of His covenant forever and ever.
The Perfect Bliss Of The Final State
Finally, the passage tells us of the state of bliss which results from God's fellowship with His people in verse 4: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."
We may note here, in the first place, that this description is negative. The heavenly things in themselves we cannot yet understand and imagine. Hence, they are described to us by way of comparison with the present things. In all these negative terms we are told, in effect: over there things are not as they are here and now.
The main point is that there shall be no more death. Death is completely and in all its forms and operations swallowed up in victory. Positively this indicates, of course, that when God's tabernacle shall be with men, then the saints shall live forever in glory with Christ; and they shall reign forevermore. Their life shall be perfect. Death can nevermore enter into the New Jerusalem and the new creation. And therefore, there shall be no sorrow, which means, positively speaking, that there shall be everlasting joy and gladness. There shall be no more crying, but everlasting rejoicing, with songs of gladness. There shall be no more pain, but everlasting well-being and prosperity. For all these, - sorrow, crying, pain, - are implied in and are the result of death. And when death is swallowed up in victory, and when everlasting life reigns supreme in Christ, none of these shall ever enter into the glory that shall then be revealed.
The reason given is that the former things are passed away. The "former things" are the present economy of things since the fall, since sin entered into the world. For since then we are under the curse, characterized by death and suffering and sorrow and by persecution on the part of the enemy. All these are passed away forevermore. They can never enter into the new creation in order to spoil and mar its bliss; and there shall be no fear that they shall ever enter again. They are passed away!
Hence, the final state of God's people shall be one of perfect consolation. God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes! What a beautiful and comforting expression to denote that the Lord God shall remove every cause of sorrow! What a lot of tears have been shed! Tears have been shed because of the sufferings of this present time in general; and tears have been shed because of suffering for Christ's sake. But in the final state of glory there shall be no reason for weeping forevermore. Godshall comfort His people perfectly for all their suffering which they endured while they were in the present world, causing them to inherit the exceeding great reward of heavenly glory. He shall console them perfectly for all their present sorrow, filling them with joy unspeakable and full of glory. "For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us."
And therefore we can shout with the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15:51-57: "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."