My first full-time ministry calling was in a little town called New London. There are a few New London’s in the US. I’m sure they are all great little communities — mine in Missouri certainly was. Yet, even though I’m sure they are fine towns, they each pale in comparison to Old London. None of the New London’s quite superseded their namesake. In fact, there really isn’t much in common.

There are many cities in the Bible which receive attention. You’ve probably heard of Jericho. The cities connected to Jesus’ birth you’ve also likely heard about. But there is a city which seems to get the most ink, that is the city of Jerusalem. In fact, we see that the Bible ends in a New Jerusalem. What are we to make of this? Is the New Jerusalem better than the old one? How might they be similar?

As we consider this city, we find that many of our deepest longings will be fulfilled there.

What Is the New Jerusalem?

There is an old maxim that “in order to understand where you are going, you have to first know where you came from.” This is certainly true when we try to understand the biblical concept of a New Jerusalem. In order to fully grasp this picture, we must go all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

In the early chapters of Genesis, we see that humanity was created by God and set in a garden to work it and keep it. The story of the Bible can be summarized as God working to redeem the three R’s which we forfeited in the Garden: rest, rule, and relationship.

Another way you could say this is that humanity was created for a place, a purpose, and a people. And the story of the Bible is that God, in Christ, is dedicated to giving us these great promises. When you read in the Old Testament about the Land that God is going to give to the Israelites, and when you see them living in Jerusalem and worshipping in the temple, you are seeing these 3 R’s being fulfilled in shadow form. The city of Jerusalem is all about finding rest. The name itself points to a peaceful place. It’s where shalom is supposed to happen. 

This is why even though the phrase “New Jerusalem” only appears twice in the Bible, one could argue that every page is marching towards this climax. In Revelation 3:12 Jesus says of those who are victorious in Him,

“I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.”

And in Revelation 21:2 we read this:

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”

New Jerusalem, then, is our final destination. It is the place where God is taking us. A reconstituted temple/garden. It’s home.

What Do We Know about This Place?

Revelation 21:1-7 paints for us a picture of this New Jerusalem. It is markedly different from the old Jerusalem, not only by what is there, but even more by what is not there.

Revelation 21:1 tells us that there will be “no more sea.” That means there will be no more chaos or evil. Hostility will be gone in the New Jerusalem. And no talking serpents like in the original Garden. Revelation 21:4 tells us that there will be “no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain.” All of these have been defeated and overcome. The New Jerusalem will not have one ounce of sorrow within it. Revelation 21:7-8 tells us as well that there will be no more sin. Those who are persistently wicked and unrepentant will not be there. Justice will be given on that day and nothing impure will be present (Revelation 21:27). We also know that the presence of God will be so radiant that there will be no more need for a sun. There will be no more darkness or night (Revelation 21:25, 22:5). The curse will be finally lifted.

In his book, “The God I Don’t Understand,” Christopher J.H. Wright makes a compelling argument that “all that has enriched and honored the life of all nations in all of history will be brought in to enrich the new creation.” He shares more of this compelling vision:

“Think of the prospect! All human culture, language, literature, art, music, science, business, sport, technological advancement — actual and potential — all available to us. All of it with the poison of evil and sin sucked out of it forever. All of it glorifying God. All of it under his loving and approving smile. All of it for us to enjoy with God and indeed being enjoyed by God. And all eternity for us to explore it, understand it, appreciate it, and expand it.”

There are some places like Isaiah 65:17-25 and Ezekiel 40-48 which can help fill out a bit more of the specifics of what this New Jerusalem will be like. As for me, I try not to get too caught up in the details. I know that there are things on this earth that are wonderful and beautiful and are able to captivate me. They are deep blessings, but they also have a taint of sin built within them. Can you imagine, if God is able to give you substantial joy in this fallen world, what will happen when the “poison of evil and sin” is removed forever? God knows how to make us eternally happy.

When Will We See the New Jerusalem?

I think there is a good deal of confusion centering on this point. And I’ll admit that it can be a bit confusing. When my grandmother was dying I read and prayed Revelation 21 over her. I encouraged her with the fact that she was going to a place where there would be no more crying, or cancer, or pain but she would be in the presence of Jesus. I do not have all the answers about what immediately happens to us when we die. I know that we are immediately in the presence of Jesus. But I also know that what I said to my grandmother was not technically true from a Revelation 21 standpoint.

I say that because of the direction of Revelation 21. There is not talk of us going “up” to the New Jerusalem, but rather it coming down to us. One can discuss all the different views of the end times and the different ideas about the millennium later. For now, it’s enough to know that whatever is happening here in Revelation 21 is at a future time and will be the climax of history. Beale is correct: “The vision does not describe features of the church age prior to the end, since the conditions portrayed emphasize the absence of every form of visible and invisible threat to the entire redeemed community, in both its spiritual and its physical aspects.”

It is certainly future. And those who see it will be those who are united to Christ, those who have come to drink from “the spring of the water of life without payment.” It will be given to the one who, in Christ, conquers. Those who are unrepentant and have continued in wickedness will have no part in the kingdom, but their place will be in the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8).

But the most important resident will be the Triune God in all his fullness. And it will be here where we finally can see.

Sources

Christopher J.H. Wright, “The God I Don’t Understand”

G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 1041.

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Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Matthew Brosseau

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and his writing home is http://mikeleake.net