An Examination of
Revelation 21:1-27 and 22:1-6
I know of at least five basic views of The Revelation of Christ as given to John.
(1) The Futurist or Pre-Millennial Dispensationalist View which holds that everything after Revelation 4 is yet unfulfilled prophecy.
(2) The Historic or Full Preterist View which holds that all prophecy was fulfilled at 70 AD.
(3) The Partial Preterist View which holds there is yet some unfulfilled prophecy such as the final return of Christ and the resurrection of the just and the unjust.
(4) The Jehovah Witnesses maintain that the present heaven and earth will never be destroyed.
(5) The Closed Book View which says that because of the Metaphorical and Sign Language in the Revelation it cannot be understood and therefore holds no view. There may be more than this, and there may be many variations within these basic views. The Arminian and Sovereign Grace (Calvinist) Dispensationalist (which make up the vast majority of “professing believers”) sees everything in Revelation after Chapter 4 as being Future – and literally yet unfulfilled.
They teach the binding of Satan in Rev 20, and the resurrection of the just will occur at Christ's return. They teach there will be a "millennial" judgment of the sheep and goats after a seven year tribulation period to determine who may enter the millennial kingdom. They teach a 1,000 year "dispensation" of Christ's earthly reign or kingdom from “the Jerusalem that now is” will follow. At the end of this time, Satan will be released, another climactic battle will take place, and at the end there will be final judgment of the wicked and Satan. After this the present earth will be burned up and a new earth and new heaven and New Jerusalem will be created as the eternal dwelling place of believers with God. They teach that in the New Jerusalem, heaven (as God's dwelling place) and earth (man's dwelling) will be merged.
On the other extreme is the Full Preterist view that ALL prophecy in the Revelation has been fulfilled. They teach that the new heaven and the new earth is metaphorical of the New Covenant established in 70 AD with the final coming of Christ. They teach, QUOTE: “In the New Testament, the Old covenant was about to pass away (2 Corinthians 3:10; Hebrews 8:13, 12:25-28). If the New Heavens and Earth has not yet arrived, then the New Covenant hasn't either” END QUOTE. The Full Preterist teach that the “elements” that are burned up according to Peter are the principles of the Old Covenant. They teach that, QUOTE: “The new heavens and earth is referring to the New Covenant. This is the present period of time ... the Kingdom of God where Christ rules in the hearts of the believers” END QUOTE.
In other words they teach we are now living in the eternal kingdom. To the Full Preterist the “New Jerusalem” is metaphorical language that represents the present day ETERNAL kingdom of God. Since I am not a Futurist or Dispensationalist nor a Full Preterist, my belief about the New Jerusalem, if I ever establish one, will fall within the Partial Preterist view. Godly men have probably studied this for almost 2,000 years – please don’t expect any “break through” of understanding from this feeble sinner.
Some of the most noted commentators have made statements about this subject. I am not altogether sure I understand exactly what they were saying or if I can or would agree with what they said. But I will share them with you just in case you might. John Gill says of Revelation 21, “This chapter contains an account of the happy state of the church, consisting of all the elect, both Jews and Gentiles, which will take place upon the first resurrection, and will continue during the thousand years’ reign mentioned in the preceding chapter. The seat of the church in these happy times will be the new heaven and the new earth, Rev. 21:1, the church that will dwell there is described by its names, the holy city, and new Jerusalem; --“Barnes says, “The whole of chapter 21, and the first five verses of chapter 22, relate to scenes beyond the judgment, and are descriptive of the happy and triumphant state of the redeemed church, when all its conflicts shall have ceased, and all its enemies shall have been destroyed. That happy state is depicted under the image of a beautiful city, of which Jerusalem was the emblem, and it was disclosed to John by a vision of that city—the New Jerusalem—descending from heaven. Jerusalem was regarded as the peculiar dwelling-place of God, and to the Hebrews it became thus the natural emblem or symbol of the heavenly world.”
Matthew Henry says, “Hitherto the prophecy of this book has presented to us a very remarkable mixture of light and shade, prosperity and adversity, mercy and judgment, in the conduct of divine Providence towards the church in the world: now, at the close of all, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away; a new world now appears, the former having passed away. Some are willing to understand all that is said in these last two chapters of the state of the church even here on earth, in the glory of the latter days; but others, more probably, take it as a representation of the perfect and triumphant state of the church in heaven. Let but the faithful saints and servants of God wait awhile, and they shall not only see, but enjoy, the perfect holiness and happiness of that world.”
We can see from these comments that there are differing views on this subject – But what do we make of this by letting Scripture interpret Scripture? I approach making even the smallest comments about this passage with fear and trembling, realizing that the qualifications for one to do so is that he must be IN the Spirit of God and be led of the Spirit of God if anything good is to come from such an effort. I think the phrase “in the Spirit” carries with it the connotation of being “filled with the Spirit” and I have never in my life made such a claim, nor do I ever intend to. I pray that I will not speak anything in error. If I do it will surely be in ignorance.
John the beloved was IN the Spirit on the Lord’s Day to receive this Revelation from Jesus Christ (1:10). After John wrote the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia, which are applicable to all the churches, we read in Rev 4:1-2, “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne," As we look forward in Chapter 21 to verse 9 and 10, we notice that John again says, “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, 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 words “in the Spirit” in 1:10 and “in the spirit” in 4:2 and “in the spirit” in 21:10 are speaking of John being IN the same Spirit of God. John was caught UP into heavenly places to record this Revelation.
It was “one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven LAST plagues” that said to John “Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” It was this angel which showed John “that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: --“. While it is not my purpose, nor do I have the ability or knowledge, to deal with the chronology of the book of The Revelation, I take note that what is recorded in Chapters 21 and 22 concerning “The New Jerusalem” follows after the “great white throne” judgment of the dead in Revelation 20:11-15. It was not until after this “great white throne” judgment was recorded that John said, “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. And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
SOME BIG “IFs” without being dogmatic: IF we believe the “great white throne judgment” is prophetic and yet in the future, and IF we believe there is any chronological sequence to the events recorded in the Revelation, then it seems to me that we must consider the possibility that (1) the new heaven and (2) the new earth, and (3) the New Jerusalem come AFTER the final judgment of the dead. This does not mean that there cannot be found a “TASTE” or “SHADOW” of the New Jerusalem IN the local visible NT church and IN the kingdom of God. Since the Law and Levitical form of worship was “a shadow of good things to come” could not the local visible NT church (assembly) be only a shadow of that “glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."