“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I John saw the Holy City, New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. ” (Rev.21:1)
John begins his experience of the New Jerusalem by telling us that it all refers to the time of the “new heaven and new earth.” It is therefore of the utmost importance for us to determine the time slot in which the Vision operates.
In our excursion through various commentaries we have found the most usual interpretation is that of the “eternal state.” For example, Dr. E. W. Bullinger (Apocalypse page 647) says, “The heaven will be new; the earth new; for there will be no more curse, and therefore no more sin, or suffering, or sorrow.”
Frederick Tatford (Prophecy’s Last Word page 226) heads chapter 24 “The Eternal State”. He says, “The Millennial reign had been completed, Christ had annulled all rule and all authority and power, and put all enemies under His feet, and the kingdom had been given up to God the Father.”
These learned men deserve our respect. Indeed, we have found great pleasure in reading their respective works. But we can only say that the very text of the Scriptures undermines their assertion in respect of this one point. Bullinger sees no more curse, sin, sorrow or suffering. But we are distinctly told that “nothing shall in any wise enter the City that defiles, neither that which works abomination or makes a lie.” (21:27) Hence although withinthe City all is clean and bright, outside there remains much that is filthy. Indeed, John gives a graphic list of certain people who live outside the walls of the City. “Fearful, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, whoremongers, sorcerers, idolaters, and liars.” (21:8) How can this be, if we are to envisage the glory of an eternal state?
Take Tatford’s statement. He sees the Millennium completed, and all enemies beneath Christ’s feet, and the kingdom yielded to God the Father. Once again, if the conditions that exist outside the City contain such evils as listed by John, how can it be said that “all is under His feet”? Furthermore, and this we feel is the most pressing point of all, we are distinctly told that the kingdom had not yet been given up to God the Father. John says, “the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it [the City]” Rev.22:3 It is a later time than that which Paul speaks of when he says that “when all things are subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” 1 Cor.15:28. The Holy City operates during the era when Jesus promised His overcomers “to sit with Me in my throne, even as I overcame, and am seated with my Father in His throne.” (Rev.3:21)
Furthermore, the whole setting of chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation is governed by Jesus’ call in 22:12, “Behold I come quickly and my reward is with me to give every man according as his work shall be.” Words such as these declare that a great work of God has come to fruition and completion, a work that is called the New Jerusalem, the Bride the Lamb’s wife. At the moment of completion, the Lord Jesus returns to His people to set up the Kingdom and inaugurate the Millennial reign.
The numbers SEVEN and TWELVE set the seal upon this. Throughout Revelation the number 7 is found again and again. There are 7 churches, 7 seals to be opened, 7 trumpets, 7 thunders and 7 bowls of wrath. All the history that these cover (even if we find it difficult to understand) is governed by the number SEVEN. And 7 isuniversally known to be the number of spiritual perfection. God has been doing a work amongst men to achieve His little flock, His overcomers, His faithful servants, throughout all history.
But at the end of Revelation we begin to see everything in TWELVES. There are 12 gates, manned by 12 angels, the gates being 12 pearls. The 12 tribes’ names are written on these gates. The wall of the city has 12 foundations, upon which are written the names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb. The wall had the measure of 144 cubits, which is 12 × 12. The city itself is marked by the measurement of 12,000 stadia. From this we learn that the Holy City is connected with GOVERNMENT. 12 is known to be the number of perfect government, and therefore it refers to the time when God is ruling amongst the nations of the world, in other words, the Millennium and beyond.
Finally, we are told that God’s servants, members of this Holy City, “shall reign unto the ages of the ages”. (22:5) Already the promise has been given of reigning for 1,000 years (20:4) but now this reign is extended for an indefinite time, to accomplish even greater purposes, which we shall investigate in due course. The word “reign” cannot be separated from the word “kingdom.” Therefore we conclude that the outworking of the Holy City vision is to begin with the Millennial reign of Christ.
As a result of this study, which perforce, has had to be an examination of texts, we find that the Millennium begins with the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. It is not a totally new planetary sphere, but one which needs much cleansing. It is a time when the fires of God’s judgments pass through to purge and cleanse. It is spoken of by the prophet Isaiah in the final chapters of his work. See 65:17. “Behold I create new heaven and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. . . . I create Jerusalem a rejoicing and her people a joy.”