by Glen R. Jackman
It is very clearly presented by Jesus Christ in His guidance given for the church to the apostle John in Revelation, that sanctification is the predominant teaching for the church prior to the judgment and the Second Advent.
The Literal Viewpoint of the New Jerusalem
Many Christians are waiting for this world to be destroyed and a new world to be created, wherein they live with regenerated physical bodies. I will not refute this teaching, dear to many, but will reveal the most important teaching Christ is defining for His remnant church today.
This strongly postulated literal doctrine in Christendom, established by the texts in Revelation seems at the outset to also point to a literal architecture of the New Jerusalem within the new heaven and new earth with the sole function of establishing a fortress of protection from a final attack from all the forces of evil including Satan leading. This operative centre is often interpreted as a physical literal city, called the “New Jerusalem”, a stone city that will literally come down out of the sky from heaven, to be where the old Jerusalem was and that God and Jesus will live in it, here on Earth with the redeemed that have escaped this earth at Christ’s Second Advent.
With great love for Christians holding only this view, I suggest that there may be a danger if we miss the wonderful spiritual teaching that the Church of Jesus Christ is presented in Revelation foremost as the New Jerusalem, as His Bride. However, let us look at this literal viewpoint as a starting point.
Old things have passed away (Rev 21:1-5)
The following text evidently is referring to a post-judgment period with reference to the New Jerusalem:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Rev 21:1-5)
The old earth and heavens have passed away in this text indicating a cosmological event prophesied by Peter, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives”. (2 Pet 3:10-11) Peter echoes Isaiah who also foretold this event, “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shrivelled figs from the fig tree”. (Is 34:4)
The word “new” is used to describe the heavens, the earth and Jerusalem—in fact everything in this scene (Rev 21:1-5) is made entirely new. It seems that this text is a prelude look at the New Jerusalem defined as the futuristic view as a period after the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ, proven by the fact that this is a period when there is no more death.
Thus it seems that there is a “new” and changed Holy City, which is preceded by scriptural definitions of the same city with similar qualities, yet not referred to as new in the context of the cosmological transformation. This new city is not articulated in chronological order in Revelation but precedes an explanation of the Holy City clearly as the Church of Jesus Christ. One simply has to see the same church defined, in two time periods, after the atomic transformation of all things, and prior which is the period from the cross to today.
God, who sits on the throne, said “I am making everything new!” (Rev 21:5-8) This is a snapshot look at the new city after the cosmological renewing of the heavens and the earth after the 2nd Advent of Christ which is often viewed as a literal city coming down to earth. This may very well occur as a city inhabited by glorified saints (both the living and the resurrected righteous) who have ascended to meet the Lord in the rapture during his return; and now descend inside the city to earth with Him. However the main teaching of Revelation about the New Jerusalem is allegorically envisioning a sanctified church prepared as a Bride to meet her Lord.
I have no qualm with the physical view as a secondary possibility of a new physical, materially structured New Jerusalem but it is highly doubtful this is what is being expressed in Revelation in the allegories. All the symbols of His Church meant to define His people in the Gospel era since the cross, remain intact. If convicted that the city is indeed literal, and made of the materials used to symbolize God’s saints, at the point of being made new during the cosmological transformation, with full freedom of conscience, let the man or woman decide freely as he or she seems convicted. One thing is for sure: the first priority is to be prepared by having a relationship with the Lord, and by allowing Him to cleanse us from sin as He conforms us to His image in our current time-frame before His Second Advent: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son”. (Rom 8:29)
Two Periods of the Same City
The idea of two time periods relative to the Holy City makes sense when you apply the promise of the “new” final Jerusalem as being the culmination of earth’s history to a time when the redeemed inherit their reward only received by those true saints who have overcome sin in their life; and a contrasted great loss to the unrepentant wicked, and assurance of their destruction in the lake of fire.
He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Rev 21: 7-8)
The Holy City’s Intentional Allegorical Viewpoint
The careful Bible student will need to begin to think in terms of allegoric imagery as we study. God uses the sanctified imagination to teach us many things. The Book of Revelation operates almost entirely on the basis of symbolic teaching. Jesus taught that all things would become new. As we examine the allegorical meanings please consider new to mean paradigm shifts of the mind—from the old ways to the new ways of seeing things from God’s perspective. He had emphasized to Nicodemus the need to be born again of the Holy Spirit. He told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, that the time is coming when all men will worship God in the Spirit.
“You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4: 22-24)
The Epistle to the Hebrews is devoted to a logical argument to show that the old sanctuary and services, operatives of the old Jerusalem, were entirely done away with at the cross. At Christ’s death, the curtain of the old sanctuary within the old Jerusalem was torn in two, indicating that all the old ways of seeking blood atonement with Yahweh, in this new reality, had ceased, once the true Lamb of God achieves the anti-typical sacrifice. Hebrews argues that the entire procedure of the old Levitical sanctuary system was a copied pattern or a symbol of the act of redemption.
“It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” (Heb 9: 23-24)
The principle text around which our study hinges is presented by Christ in the Book of Revelation as not a man-made city, but rather a symbol of God’s people in Spirit-centric unity with Him: “I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”(Rev 2:21)
Another verse ties in with this one and will shine some light on our study as scripture interprets scripture: “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him 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 him My new name.” (Rev 3: 12 italics mine)
Obviously, those that overcome are not physical “pillars” which is only meant to portray the idea of spiritual strength and unity. Jesus taught that the “the Kingdom of God is within us” (Luke 17:20-21), not outside of us; and that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Cor 15:50) as we live in the flesh here.
As you recall Jesus said “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? ‘It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough’.” Luke 13: 20 indicating the work of the Holy Spirit penetrating the hearts and minds of mankind and spreading to the whole world while unifying His worshipers as One (cf. John 17).
Conversely, Jesus foretold the physical old Jerusalem’s demise:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate”. (Luke 13: 34-35)
Further, Jesus talked about his second advent as a time that He would come in the name of the Lord, for those who bear His name. “I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13: 35)
The writing of God’s name and Christ’s new name on the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem are marked with a parallel occurrence of inscribing the name of the city “New Jerusalem” upon the residents. There is a spiritual message being presented by Christ through the apostle John for the last days in Revelation that is much larger than and goes beyond a literal futurist, materialistic understanding. It is current teaching for the church, that the Lord wants to mark us as His own, now gathered together via the Holy Spirit, now willingly His subjects as obedient to the King of kings, Lord of lords – now His subjects serving Him in Spirit and in truth in the Holy Spirit’s realm defined as the New Jerusalem. This is not the same desolate “house” of the disobedient and rebellious old Jerusalem that corporately denied Him as King.
“Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev 21: 27)
Jesus defines who will not be named as residents in His true church. He also depicts the unfaithful presented clearly as outside of the gates of the New Jerusalem. Nothing impure will enter the city of God. Transforming any old way of thinking bound to the old Jerusalem way of salvation, Christ defined as the new Jerusalem paradigm—a continuum moving away from the old Jerusalem, yet respectful of the history of His work on earth since Abraham to David’s day. The language of the New Jerusalem is meant to make a historic connection, yet enter a new way of serving God.
Develop this further and you will begin to see something Satan does not want anyone to see. Look for the allegories: of the Spirit as water amidst the church, Christ as the tree of life, the throne as the Sovereign Lord governing His people in the church, inscribed foreheads for avowed allegiance to a Holy God, and light as the Holy Spirit:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever. The angel said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.’ (Rev 22: 1-6)
If the allegorical teaching is to guide us, the context of this next text flowing together presents a pertinent urgency to understand the symbols, because it declares that Jesus is coming and that we are to “keep” these words as an important prophecy. “Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.” (Rev 2: 7)
The prophecies of Joseph come to mind as using allegorical imagery:
Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.…I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me. (Gen 37: 6-9)
The prophetic dreams of Nebuchadnezzar interpreted by Daniel come to mind as God using allegorical imagery. Daniel had told the king, “the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen” and then re-articulated his mysterious symbolic dream:
You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2: 31-35)
The principal teaching of the New Jerusalem also goes far beyond the literal viewpoint, presenting amazing imagery that relates to many other scriptural teachings. The great symbol of the “water of life” of which Jesus spoke to the woman at Jacob’s well, as springing up from within, was teaching about the need to be born again of and governed by His Spirit.
The Water of the River of Life Analogy
The Holy Spirit indwelling the church of Jesus Christ is depicted as running in her midst as a river from the throne of God in association with the Lamb of God.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Rev 22: 1-4)
The Light of the City Analogy (Rev 21:22-27)
The allegory of the light of the city simply means that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is the light of the church: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Rev 21: 23-24)
Scripture tells us that Jesus came as a great Light into the world. The spiritual symbol of light is also a predominant teaching of Christ about the filling of the Spirit actualized in the New Jerusalem. Jesus declared: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) John further developed the teaching of light, to mean that we would have fellowship and unity with and reliance on Christ to purify us from sin. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
The light of the Holy Spirit also is to extend to the nations in the new earth as the Gospel goes out from the true church. “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it.” (Rev 21:24)
Light is the subject of Jesus parable of the ten virgins, and is dependent on oil in the lamps, oil being another symbol of the Spirit of God. Expanding on light, we read “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Rev 21:22-23)
The Analogy of the Purity of the Bride of Christ
The New Jerusalem imagery is about the Holy Spirit bearing the light of Christ into the hearts of men who will abide as one with Christ and His Father in His spiritual kingdom, a city not built with hands, one that Abraham foresaw, whose architect and builder was God.
It is interesting that the angel showing John this symbolic vision is one of the seven angels pouring out the seven last plagues, the outpouring of which is evidently prior to the 2nd Advent of Christ. He says to John in his vision:
‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Rev 21: 9-11)
The marriage of Christ to His church, the bride, is a teaching that is common to all Christians. The angel says “I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb…and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem”. This symbolism was accomplished “in the Spirit” because it is meant to reveal the place where Christ rules as King in His authority, yet is united to His subjects in a matrimonial way as a loving husband is to his Bride. By showing us the symbolism of the bride, we in parallel see the New Jerusalem as the sanctified individuals making up the final church of Jesus Christ!
Paul made this clear in the epistle to the Ephesians: “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Saviour of the body.” (Eph 5: 23) In the same chapter, Paul emphasized the idea of mystery and we learned from Daniel that God reveals mysteries regarding His own symbols. “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5: 32) Paul was specifically called by Jesus to articulate the meaning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The City Dimensions Analogy (Rev 21:12-21)
The perfection of the city is emphasized by the use of twelve tribes and twelve apostles, twelve gates, twelve angels; and further twelve times twelve indicated by the wall being “144 cubits thick” and the city being 12,000 stadia high; and the redeemed are indicated as being of a number of symbolic multiple of twelve being 144,000 yet of a group that no man can number. Symbols and reality intertwine in the book of Revelation as scripture unwinds scriptural truth.
It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man’s measurement, which the angel was using. The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. (Rev 21: 12-21)
More Symbols of Purification from Sin
In Revelation we further examine the symbolism of purity in the symbolic foundation of the city decorated with “every kind of precious stone” (Rev 21:19) and the element of pure gold:
The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. (Rev 21: 19-21)
Gold is also used in the Old Testament by the prophet Zechariah to depict a refining process that God’s remaining faithful people are to go through. “In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’ (Zech 13:8-9)
In Revelation Jesus uses the gold as allegory and states “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (Rev 3:19)
Another allegory that is common in the book of Revelation is the symbolism of white clothing, as a covering of righteousness to cover our Adamic nature of sin, revealing the idea of total reliance on Christ’s righteousness to cover our sin.
Further, we find contrasted, people who cannot enter into the city in Revelation 21: 27: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life”. Our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, prior to the Lord’s 2nd Advent. “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels”. (Rev 3:5) This is pre-2nd Advent language.
Sanctification is the Predominant Pre-2nd Advent Allegorical Message
We are told that to enjoy the presence of the Lord and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling we must overcome sin in our lives: “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev 21: 7) Paul articulates the same thinking, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Rom 8:9) The first mention of the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation presents the need to overcome sin:
Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him 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 him my new name. (Rev 3: 12)
In the last chapter of Revelation, we find the same direct warning that is articulating a period prior to the Lord’s 2nd Advent. How do we know this? There is the close of probation warning of the pre-2nd Advent of Christ whereby we are warned not to close our minds off to this message:
Then he told me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy’. (Rev 22: 10-11)
Then we hear Jesus speaking directly to us:
Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (Rev 22: 12-13)
Once again the blessing of those who overcome sin is pronounced by Jesus:
Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Rev 22: 14-15)
Pay careful attention to this verse. Jesus is indicating the importance of sanctification by the Holy Spirit (see Rom 8:9), using the symbol of washing their robes, to depict those who enter the city, and have the rights to the benefits of the work of the indwelling Spirit; have a right to the tree of life, which is the source of all Life. They are contrasted to the ones who are not entering into a relationship with Christ and remain outside, during the time others are entering the gates. In the next verses, Jesus says “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Rev 22: 16) These church warnings are pre-2nd Advent because warnings make no sense after the divine verdicts are in.
Probation Closing: Pre-2nd Advent
There is an invitation to those who will hear these scriptures for this time period, being given to and by the true church of Jesus referred to as His Bride. This is the church in synch with His Spirit as they work in unison to proclaim the New Jerusalem truths together. Only certain people will hear that call: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev 22:17) The gift of the Holy Spirit who brings this teaching to the elect church — calls and opens honest minds — is being offered to those who will hear and continue to hear and teach this message – “to him who hears” – to come into union with the Lord, as One.
We are admonished to listen up, and keep these words as very important to the church: “Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.” (Rev 22: 7) It is vitally important for church leaders to listen to this message and proclaim the need for sanctification via the Holy Spirit to the church now, prior to the final judgement. To not listen is to not lead according to scripture or obey this injunction to not seal up or stop its proclamation:
Then he told me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.’ (Rev 22: 10-11)
Jesus prayed that the church would enter into a sanctification process in order to become one with Him. ”They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them, I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified”. (John 17: 16-19) Further, we are admonished that time is short when the Spirit begins to make the New Jerusalem message of sanctification clear to the church: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to every one according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Rev 22: 12-13)
Glen R. Jackman is editor of Grace Proclaimed and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org