“I John saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a Bride adorned for her Husband.” (21:2)
“The angel talked with me saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife.” (21:9)
It goes without saying that no one would go into Church or a Registrar’s Office to marry a pile of bricks ! Neither will the Lord be marrying a complex of skyscrapers ! This Holy City may be visualised as a City, with buildings, streets, walls, and doors, but in order for us to understand what God was telling John, we have to accept that the City is not in fact any of these things, but is living. It is the Bride the Lamb’s Wife. We are therefore required to undo the symbolism, and search for the underlying meaning of each part of the City.
Our first quest will be to identify the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife. Clearly the Bride is corporate. There is no need for us to imagine that She is just one person. So who comprises this company of people? Is it the whole company of all believers? Or is it just the believers of the Church age? Once again a search of the commentaries throws up a variety of opinions. We have found that some do indeed think that the Church alone is signified. However, their reasons do not carry very much conviction. Others go so far as to say that all believers from Adam are included. Their reasons are far more acceptable. And then again, some aver that only the Jews are intended. So let us have a look at a few Scriptures, to try to arrive at a conclusion that satisfies all the Biblical requirements, and not just a few.
An examination of the walls and doors of the City yields some important information. In 21:12 we read that upon the gates of the City were inscribed the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. In 21:14 the wall of the City had the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb inscribed. It seems clear from these verses that we are meant to understand that both O.T. saints and N.T. saints are included.
The O.T. side of the story is to be found in Isaiah 1:26, where we read, “I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counsellors as at the beginning. Then you shall be called the City of Righteousness, the faithful city.”
And towards the end of Isaiah we find in 60:14, “The sons of those who oppressed you shall come bending low to you; and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”
These promises were given at a time when the expansion of God’s work to the Gentiles was still future, and seen only by the occasional prophetic telescope, such as Zech.2:10-11. “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for lo, I come and I will dwell in the midst of you, says the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in the midst of you.”
And then we have that clear reference to Abraham, in Hebrews 11:10 “For Abraham looked forward to the City which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Knowledge of the City was therefore known at least 2 millennia before Christ.
In the N.T. we have only to turn to Hebrews 12:22-23, “You have approached Mount Zion, the City of the Living God, Heavenly Jerusalem, and myriads of angels, to the assembly and church of the Firstborn enrolled in the heavens, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men having been made perfect, and to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkling of blood that speaks a better thing than Abel.”
To whom is the writer speaking? The letter is addressed to the Hebrews, but does it only refer to them? Who comprise the “church of the firstborn”? Does not this expression appear elsewhere in Paul’s writings? Has he not explained the demolition of the wall that used to separate the Jews from the Gentiles in the Temple? Has not God “made the both one”? Yes, we may be confident that the above quotation is to be universally accepted, no matter what background we come from. And here, in this City of the Living God, there are already (in the first century) “the spirits of just men made perfect.” No doubt the worthy company of chapter 11 is to be understood here, as many others.
Then again, Paul says in Galatians 4:26, “The Jerusalem which is above is free, which indeed is our Mother.” This Jerusalem contrasts strongly with the earthly Jerusalem of Paul’s day, “which is in bondage with her children.” If the believers of those days were asked to think of the heavenly Jerusalem as their Mother, what did they understand? According to the allegory of chapter 4, they were to think of Sarah rather than Hagar. Sometimes it is difficult to carry over one illustrative figure to the next, because we have been told that the Holy City is the Bride, not Mother. But the sense is easily understood from the Galatians allegory, because we are born of the Holy Spirit into the company of the City.
Our third and last N.T. reference is in Revelation 3:12. “I will make the Overcomer a pillar in the shrine of my God, and by no means will he go forth any more, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the City of my God, the New Jerusalem descending out of heaven from my God, and my new name.” Overcomers from within the churches have been given this promise, and therefore we are entitled to state categorically that O.T saints and N.T. saints alike shall enjoy the blessings of the New Jerusalem, the City of God.
We have now reached a conclusion that must be kept in mind as we progress in this study. There will be more to say later about the members of the City as we build up the picture stage by stage.
City of God, how broad and far outspread thy walls sublime!
The true thy chartered freemen are of every age and clime.
One holy church, one army strong, one steadfast high intent;
One working band, one harvest song, one King Omnipotent.
How purely hath thy speech come down
from man’s primeval youth!
How grandly hath thine empire grown
of freedom, love, and truth!
How gleam thy watch-fires
through the night with never fainting ray!
How rise thy towers, serene and bright,
to meet the dawning day!
In vain the surge’s angry shock, in vain the drifting sands;
Unharmed upon the eternal Rock the eternal City stands.
Words composed by Samuel Johnson, 1822 – 1882. Hymn usually sung to the tune Richmond.