The correct place to start a discussion about
the New Jerusalem is to read what the Bible says about it.
This takes us to Revelation 21:9 and 10,
'And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, "Come hither and I will show you the Bride, the Lamb's wife." And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God'
Verse 12 tells us that on the gates of the city one can find the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscibed. Verse 14 informs us that the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are plainly written in the foundations. Verse 18 tells us the city is of pure gold, with streets of gold and walls composed of precious stones reaching to a height of 1500 miles.
The question before us is to determine whether this is a physical city or whether it is a symbolic description of some spiritual truth. Its walls of 12,000 furlongs in length, breadth and height present its awesome magnitude. It would comprise an area of some 2,250,000 square miles, or about two-thirds of the land area of the United States of America. Its walls towering 7,500 times as high as the Empire State Building, or three times as high as the apogee of the astronauts circling the earth, denotes an incredible height.
These walls are described as being composed of precious stones and are only 144 cubits thick, or about 216 feet. From a literal standpoint, this would defy some principles in engineering. The beautiful symmetry in all creation suggests that God operates within the confines of His own fixed laws. Again, we ask whether this is a literal city, as our millenial friends proclaim, or is there a more Scriptural solution to its meaning and interpretation?
The Bible does not leave us in doubt!
Attention is called once more to verse 9, where the angel took the viewer in the spirit to come and behold The Bride, the Lamb's wife.
Christ is not married to a city, but His bride is the church composed of the redeemed of all ages. This removes all doubt and speculation about what is symbolized. Notice the beautiful harmony that its dimensions portray. Twelve is the Bible number used to convey unity and completeness. Here we have walls of 12,000 furlongs in length, breadth and height. Twelve-thousand fold indicates the ultimate degree of perfection. The thickness of 144 cubits is twelve times twelve, again testifying to its unity. The fact that the gates and foundations bear the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of the Lamb (twelve of each), harmonizes with the words of Paul concerning the structure of the church in Ephesians 2:20,
'And are builded on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.' (Ephesians 2:20).
The cornerstone here is more properly rendered the 'keystone' . It also signifies the basic unity between the law and gospel.
Jesus said of Himself, 'I am the door' (John 10:7). The twelve gates (perfect means of entrance) to the City of God are of pearl. The pearl is the only gem that man cannot improve. It is perfect in its natural state, being the product of a living creature, the oyster. No man can improve on God's plan of salvation. Christ is the exclusive perfect mediator and entrance. The walls on the other hand are of precious stones. In their original state these gems are of little value. They must be mined from the earth and their potential value is realised only after a skilled craftsman changes them, cuts them, and polishes them until they sparkle and dazzle in the light. In like manner God lifts sinners from the miry clay of sin. They are cleansed and filled with the Spirit of God until they too reflect the transforming light of the Son of God. Peter puts this truth in these words,
'Ye also as lively (that is living) stones are built up an spiritual house'(1 Peter 2:5a)
Thus the towering iridescent walls symbolize the ultimate in peace, security and protection of the redeemed. The fact that there is no sun or moon or darkness further demonstrates its symbolism. There is no temple there! God is dwelling in His people (1 Corinthians 6:19). God has delivered us from darkness into His kingdom of light, and He is our light. Jesus Christ is the Sun of righteousness.
The fact that the Bride of Christ comes down from God (rather than the other way around) is significant. Man would reverse the order if he could. The plan of salvation did not originate in the mind of man, but rather came from the loving heart of God. It was not discovered by the saints, but was delivered to the saints! See Jude 3. Salvation is not a history of man's struggle toward heaven to please God, but on the contrary it is the record of God condescending to reach down to lift man. Thus the Bride of Christ, typified as the holy city , originated in the heart of God and descended to man as a gift from God.
There is nothing mysterious or fanciful about the new Jerusalem. It is not a golden ghetto poised in space. It is not a high jewel-walled holy prison. it is not a "holy It" at all. It is something better, namely the holy Bride of Christ revealed in all her glory and basking in the sunshine of God's love, sparkling and reflecting the manifold wonders of the beauty of holiness, protected by God's omnipotent power, and the recipient of God's abundant grace.
This is the city Abraham sought when he testified that,
'He looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker (architect) is God.... 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' (Hebrews 11:10,16).
This is further substantiated as the true interpretation by the description given in Hebrews 12:22 and 23a:
'But ye are come unto Mount Zion (the 'high mountain' of Revelation 21) and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven...'
THUS THE NEW JERUSALEM IS UNMISTAKABLY IDENTIFIED AS THE HEAVENLY JERUSALEM, THE CHURCH OF THE FIRSTBORN. Abraham saw it by faith, but John saw it being fulfilled!
Confirmation of the correctness of this interpretation is abundant and convincing...In Galatians 4 Paul compares the Old Covenant with national Israel to Hagar, but he compares the New Covenant To Sarah:
'For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children - but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all' (Galatians 4:25-26).
When is a city a mother? How can the new Jerusalem be the mother of us all? It is simple when we let the Bible explain this mystery. Its answer is both clear and and final for it removes all doubt.
Support for the correctness of this interpretation is supplied by Isaiah 66. Here the prophet peered down the centuries into the future and portrayed a strange miraculous phenomenon that could not be accounted for by the laws of nature. Let us quote the passage in full:
'The sound of noise from the city! A voice from the temple! The voice of the LORD, who fully repays His enemies!
Before she travailed, she gave birth; before her pain came, she delivered a male child.
Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once?
For as soon as Zion travailed, she gave birth to her children'(Isaiah 66:6-8).
Of course, this is clearly a prophecy of the church and of that momentous Pentecost! While human births are a slow process, thousands became born again in just a short space of time on that day! And here again, let us note the strong association with Zion and Jerusalem. ...Nothing could symbolize this better than a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God, the church of the firstborn...Holiness is a characteristic of persons rather than things, such as gold or jewels. Furthermore, this city demonstrates the unfolding of God's divine purpose and His eternal plan which incorporates the twelve tribes of Israel conjoined with the twelve apostles of the Lamb. This reveals God's plan of spanning the centuries from the beginning of His redemptive plan until the consummation of all ages to come, and How God is at work molding the church on the anvil of faith. It is the divine product which is fashioned in time but which will endure throughout eternity.
Although the Bride, the New Jerusalem, is compared with the most costly and precious things on earth, it is really worth far more, for Peter says we were not redeemed by these corruptible things, as silver and gold, but by the precious blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:18 and 19). Thus the church was borne out of God's infinite love and man's ultimate need. Its foundations are its apostles and prophets. Its jewels are its martyrs and its heroes of faith. Its gold is the work of the divine refiner who purges the dross until His image is reflected in the crucible. The entire structure glorifies the God who brought it into being. Some glorious day the struggle will be over. Eternity will dawn and the church will participate in the New Song of the Redeemed as an anthem of ceaseless praise to the Lamb on the throne throughout endless ages. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!