“And I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a Bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev.21:2)
“And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me the Holy City Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.” (Rev.21:10)
In this chapter we need to focus our thoughts on the words “coming down.” I have read that some authors believe John saw a huge Cube gradually floating down out of the sky to land on the earth. Others saw the City descending as a Pyramid. Is this what John saw? Did he actually see a complete structure descending and landing on the earth?
Let us first of all examine the Greek word for “descend.” It is KATABAINO, and it occurs some 80 times in the N.T. By examining these references, it is impossible to think of the word meaning anything but “coming down,” or “descending.” Let me give just a few examples to prove the point. The Holy Spirit was seen descending like a dove on Jesus; the disciples came down from the Mount (of Transfiguration); a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; make haste, Zacchæus, and come down (out of the tree); so Jacob went down into Egypt.
In these, as with others in the list, there can be no doubt as to the meaning, so we are not able to twist the meaning in any way. There is no doubt about the fact that the Holy City descended out of heaven. But what exactly are we to visualise about this “descent”? We are now having to assess something from a spiritual, and a dimensional viewpoint, rather than a physical viewpoint. Take for example the verse in 1 Thess.4:16, “The Lord will descend from heaven . . . and we shall be caught up.” What exactly does this mean? Surely we don’t envisage the Lord Jesus floating down from the sky? Or do we? I have read that some actually do believe this verse in a literal way. But when it comes to spiritual, and dimensional changes, we cannot employ nuts-and-bolts-mechanics.
Someone will sooner or later say, what about the Lord going up into the clouds at His ascension? Wasn’t that literal? I will have to answer, yes it was. And it requires a little extra thought at this moment. The angel said that Jesus “will return in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) This has caused many Christians to believe that Jesus will descend literally from the clouds, and will touch down on the Mount of Olives. Numbers of Christians have sold up to go and live in that area, so that they will be around when He comes back. They quote Zechariah 14:4, which says that “His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives”. But what is prophesied to follow this return? An earthquake of prodigious proportions. Are we really meant to believe that our Lord’s return for His people will take place just there?
Furthermore, Paul tells us that when the Lord descends from heaven, “we shall be caught up to meet Him.” (1 Thess.4.16-17) Therefore, from a purely physical point of view, the Lord may descend from heaven, but never gets down further than the clouds, where we shall be taken up to meet Him, so how can His feet touch the Mount of Olives? I have addressed the problem in that way, so that the 3D way of tackling the issue simply will not solve the problem.
Let’s have a look at another passage, in John 1:51. Nathaniel was amazed that Jesus could have seen him under the fig tree, when apparently He was not in physical sight of the tree. Jesus responded by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see greater things than that. You shall see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
(Here is an example of ANABAINO [ascending], and KATABAINO [descending] in the same verse) What did our Lord promise Nathaniel? That he would have his spiritual eyes opened, in the same way that Elisha’s servant’s eyes were opened to see “the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire.” (2 Kings 6:17) And he would have had an experience similar to that of Jacob, when “he dreamed of a ladder (or stairway) set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven, and behold the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” (Gen.28:12)
We mention Nathaniel, because it helps us to understand what the disciples saw at the ascension. We believe their eyes were opened to see something akin to Jacob’s stairway, and when it was said, “He was taken up and a cloud received Him from the eyesight,” it suggests that there was a welcoming ceremony for Him, as He ascended the stairway into the cloud, and when He had disappeared, two of His accompanying angels returned to have an explanatory word with the disciples. No doubt they then made their way back up the stairway, before the vision disappeared altogether. This is our own way of coping with the passage, which otherwise, if approached from the nuts-and-bolts angle, seems perplexing. But if the spiritual eyes of believers are opened to see what other men still find invisible, then there is no problem. In the same way, when the Lord descends from heaven, those about to be caught up will have their eyes opened to see the stairway, and will be taken up, even as the Lord was taken up, accompanied by an attachment of angels. This is to be understood spiritually, and dimensionally, and not 3D mechanically.
Now we are in a position to approach the question of the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. Notice first of all that John was “carried away in the spirit,” and this explains the vision. He had his eyes opened to see what was invisible to others who were still earth-bound. The descent of the City was therefore a dimensional change, so that the pyramid of God’s making through the ages, and which has always remained invisible, should now become visible on the earth.
Now we must undo that pictorial figure still further. What does it mean to those on earth? It means that the Bride of Christ will become visible. It does not mean that people will see a pyramid. Furthermore, their visibility will be because of their resurrection, and it signals the time when God begins His Millennial reign on earth. God and the angels live in higher dimensional states than us, and when they wish to make themselves visible, they need to “come down” through the dimensions for us to see them. All that great company of saints in the New Jerusalem, mentioned in Hebrews 12, will then begin their ambassadorial mission under the headship of the Lord Christ, and the earth will enjoy its Sabbath Rest.
Jerusalem, my happy home,
name ever dear to me!
When shall my labours have an end,
in joy, and peace, and Thee?
When shall these eyes Thy heaven-built walls
and pearly gates behold,
Thy bulwarks with salvation strong,
and streets of shining gold?
There happier bowers than Eden’s bloom,
nor sin nor sorrow know;
Blest seats, through rude and stormy scenes
I onward press to you.
Why should I shrink at pain and woe,
or feel, at death, dismay?
I’ve Canaan’s goodly land in view,
and realms of endless day.
Apostles, martyrs, prophets there
around my Saviour stand;
And soon my friends in Christ below
will join the glorious band.
Jerusalem, my happy home, my soul still pants for thee!
Then shall my labours have an end, when I thy joys shall see.
Hymn, written by Joseph Bromehead, 1748 – 1826. Bromehead was educated at Queen’s College, Oxford (BA 1768, MA 1771), and served as Curate of Eckington, Derbyshire, until his death, January 30, 1826, probably atEckington.