New world without tears
- 21:1 I saw a new heaven and earth. The first heaven and earth were gone.1 So was the sea. 2
- 21:2 I saw the city devoted to God, New Jerusalem.3 God sent it floating down out of the sky. It was as ready as a bride dressed in her beautiful best—all for her husband.
- 21:3 In a loud voice, the one who sat on the throne4 said, “Look at that! God has moved in with people! He’s going to live right there with them. They’ll be his family—people devoted to him. He’ll be the head of the family—their God devoted to them.5
- 21:4 God will wipe away every teardrop from every eyeball. Death will be dead and gone. It’ll take with it all the pain, tears, and grief. It’ll all be gone, along with the first heaven, earth, and sea.”
- 21:5 Someone else6 sitting on a throne said, “Look! This is a makeover; I’m making everything new.”7 He turned to me and said, “Write that down because you can count on it. And that’s the truth.”
- 21:6 Then he added. “It’s done!8 I’m the A and the Z9—the start and the finish. Anyone who’s thirsty can take a drink from the spring water of life.10 No charge. I’m giving them my okay.
- 21:7 Anyone who wins the battle wins the prize: I’ll be their God and they’ll be my child.
- 21:8 But I’ll tell you what’s going to happen to the other people—those cowards, unbelievers, and lowlifes. These are people who commit murder or sex sins. Or they practice sorcery or idolatry. They’re all liars. And they’re going to burn for it. They’re going to land in the lake of fire that feeds on sulfur. That’s the Second Death.
Invitation from an angel
- 21:9 Then an angel came to me. He was one of the seven who dumped the seven bowls of disaster on the world. He said, “Come with me. I’d like you to see the Lamb’s bride.”11
- 21:10 He took my spirit up to a mountain that was massive and high. He let me watch as the sacred city of Jerusalem descended out of heaven, sent down by God.
- 21:11 The city glowed with the glory of God’s radiance. It shined like a jewel, like a jasper stone polished clear as crystal.
Builder’s grade in New Jerusalem
- 21:12 Walls framed the city. These walls were enormous and high. They had a dozen gates, each with its own angel. Inscribed on every gate was the name of one of the 12 tribes of Israel.12
- 21:13 There were three gates on each of the city’s four sides—north, south, east, and west.
- 21:14 City walls sat on a dozen stone foundations. Each foundation carried the name of one of the Lamb’s 12 apostles.
- 21:15 The angel brought a gold measuring stick to measure the city, the gates, and the wall.
- 21:16 The city was shaped like a cube, and the angel measured it with the rod. New Jerusalem is 1,380 miles (2,220 km) long and wide.13 It’s also 1,380 miles (2,220 km) high.14
- 21:17 The angel measured the wall at 72 yards15 (66 m) thick. That’s according to the measuring system used by both humans and angels. They use the same system: cubits.
- 21:18 City walls were crafted from jasper. The city itself was built of gold, clear as glass.
- 21:19 Foundation stones under the walls were embedded with a dozen different jewels: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald,
- 21:20 onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst.16
- 21:21 The dozen gates were made of pearl—each gate cut from a single massive pearl.17 The streets were paved in gold, clear as glass.
New Jerusalem’s energy source
- 21:22 I looked around and I didn’t see a temple anywhere in the city. They don’t need a place to worship God. He’s already there. The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple.
- 21:23 New Jerusalem doesn’t have a sun or a moon. Doesn’t need them. God himself lights the city. The Lamb of God is the light.
- 21:24 The light of this city will guide people everywhere, in countries all over the earth. World leaders will come, in dignity and honor.
- 21:25 The gates will never close. No need. It’s always daytime. No such thing as nighttime.
- 21:26 People from nations all over the world will bring wealth and honor into the city.
- 21:27 Nothing dirty and dishonorable18 gets into this city. Liars and people who worship other gods can never come inside. The only people allowed inside are those whose names show up in the Lamb’s Book of Life.19
John seems to borrow the description of one of Isaiah’s prophecies. See Isaiah 65:17.
For many Jews—landlubbers mostly—the sea was a terrifying place where they could drown or get eaten or swallowed alive by big fish.
Christians have different theories about what New Jerusalem represents. Some say it’s a new universe where people live with the kind of glorified body Jesus had after his resurrection. Others say it’s a symbolic way of describing heaven. Still others say it’s a figurative way of talking about the Christian church. The city “descending” is the church at work in the world. But some say the new city will literally come down to earth from heaven and plant itself somewhere.
John has seen a lot of people in heaven sitting on thrones. So this voice might come from someone other than God or Jesus, especially since the speaker refers to God as though God is someone else.
Sounds very much like a prophecy Ezekiel made some 600 years earlier: “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people” (Ezekiel 37:27 New American Standard Bible). This is the language of ancient contracts, including those between God and the Jewish people. It’s a promise to be there for each other. When the Jews built a tent worship center, God made a similar promise: “I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God” (Exodus 29:45 New American Standard Bible). The Bible reports that God spoke to Moses and the priests at that worship center.
Many scholars say God is doing the talking in verses 5-8.
Paul said God would make people new again, too. We get our own makeover, and it starts in this lifetime: “If you’ve joined up with Christ, you’ve quit the old you. You’re now the new you. The old you is dead and gone. Look at that, the new you is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“It is finished,” in some translations. This is the same phrase Jesus spoke with his last breath, perhaps meaning his work on earth was finished (John 19:30).
Literally “Alpha” and “Omega,” the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet.
Water in a desert land is a powerful symbol for something everyone wants. Here it seems to represent eternal life. Jesus used the symbol of water to talk about eternal life and the Spirit (John 4:7-14; 7:37-38). The prophet Isaiah used it to talk about God’s kindness and about protection from enemies: “Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free!” (Isaiah 55:1 New Living Translation).
God’s people, the church. Paul compared the intimate relationship between Christ and the church to the relationship between husband and wife. “Husbands, love your wives with the kind of love Jesus showed for the church when he gave his life for her” (Ephesians 5:25). In Old Testament times, prophets often describe the Jewish people as God’s wife. “I will make you my wife forever” (Hosea 2:19 New Living Translation).
The lamb is Jesus. Ironically, In the battle described in Revelation 5, the Lion from the tribe of Judah—Jesus—becomes the Lamb. The implication is that the battle he won wasn’t through military warfare. It was through a sacrificial death and resurrection. Jews observed Passover by sacrificing a lamb. Jewish leaders orchestrated the crucifixion of Jesus during the Passover holiday.
Literally 12,000 stadia, which is 2,220 km. A stadion is an ancient Greek unit of length, about 600 feet or 185 meters. That puts the city at 1.9 million square miles, which is roughly half the size of the United States or Russia, at 3.8 and 3.9 million square miles, respectively. Or it’s about the combined size of France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
By comparison, the international space station circles the earth at an altitude of about 220 miles (350 km).
66 meters. Literal measurement: 44 cubits. A cubit is the measurement of a forearm, from fingertips to elbow. Typically about 18 inches or 44 cm. Kings got a little extra, called a long cubit: 21 inches or 52 cm. Figures.
Builder’s grade in New Jerusalem.
Christians who take these descriptions literally instead of figuratively might need to explain giant oysters. Many Christians read these descriptions of heaven as a way for John to describe as best he can the indescribable. So he or his vision paints a picture of heaven as so wonderful that the most precious objects on earth are nothing but basic building material for heaven’s pavement, walls, gates, and foundation stones. Our jewels, pearls, and gold are heaven’s cement, bricks, and asphalt.
Literally “ritually unclean,” as in not kosher.
Most Bible experts seem to agree that the Book of Life isn’t a celestial book. It’s a metaphor, a way of identifying people devoted to God. This word picture may have begun centuries earlier, when palace scribes kept records of the king’s enemies and his loyal servants. Kings generally rewarded the loyal souls with life and other perks. People who betrayed the king weren’t so lucky.
Okay, here it comes, “New Jerusalem…floating down out of the sky” (21:2). Just what are we supposed to make of that? Some Christians take this and the rest of Revelation 21 literally. Others don’t. Should they? If so, why?
“Look at that! God has moved in with people! He’s going to live right there with them. They’ll be his family—people devoted to him. He’ll be the head of the family—their God devoted to them” (21:3). What do you think about that?
God will wipe away every teardrop from every eyeball. Death will be dead and gone. It’ll “take with it all the pain, tears, and grief. It’ll all be gone, along with the first heaven, earth, and sea” (21:4). How could God do that, short of a lobotomy that cuts out all our bad memories?
Many scholars say as John reports it, God is doing the talking in 21:5-8. Does that sound like a quote from God, or perhaps John’s memory of the vision and his paraphrase of God?
Here’s a question some are wondering about John, but are perhaps too polite to ask. Given some of the bizarre scenes John describes from his visions in Revelation, what hallucinogenic plants grew on Patmos island?
OK, since this is an oddball question, here’s the answer teachers will find in the Revelation leader’s guide to the Casual English Bible:
It’s a tad irreverent to suggest that John was high on more than life.
It’s unknown what mind-altering drugs were available on Patmos 2,000 years ago. Psychedelic mushrooms, possibly. Who knows about marijuana? Cannabis, as the drug is also called, was fired up and smoked at least several centuries before John.
Most Christians wouldn’t tolerate the argument that John used drugs to induce his vision. But the Bible says some earlier prophets did solicit a little help in jump starting their vision trances. When Elisha wanted to hear a message from God, he said, “Send for someone who can play the harp” (2 Kings 3:15 Contemporary English Version). When the harpist started stroking strings, the Bible says God gave Elisha a message.
Most Christians would probably say that whatever John may have used to help induce his visions, if he used anything, it didn’t get in God’s way. God’s message came through. And it tracks nicely with scenes and messages from earlier prophets, including Ezekiel and Daniel. At times, it sounds like all three were describing pretty much the same thing. Compare John’s New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 with Ezekiel’s in Ezekiel 47. And see John’s description of worshiping the beast’s statue (13:15) with what Daniel reports in Daniel 3:5-7, 15.
For more comparisons, search the internet for parallels between Revelation, Ezekiel, and Daniel. There are charts full of the similarities.
When you read John’s detailed description of New Jerusalem, which some scholars say is heaven, what are you thinking as you finish reading it?
John didn’t see any sun or moon lighting heaven. Apparently, no artificial lighting. “God himself lights the city. The Lamb of God is the light” (21:23). Literally, do you think? The Bible often links light to celestial beings.
LIFE APPLICATION. John says he looked around New Jerusalem, but he didn’t see any temple. He concluded, “They don’t need a place to worship God. He’s already here” (21:22). Most Christians seem to recognize that church worship services and Bible study classes are helpful and often essential to maturing as a Christian. But in a way, what John said about heaven applies to us now. Wherever we go in life, “He’s already there.” Where are some of the places you think Christians connect with God and sense his presence?