And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues; and he spake with me, saying, “Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9).
Most people, even if they do not know much about the Bible, have a definite picture in mind of what Heaven is like. Many people think of pearly gates and a city of gold. This view is reinforced by all kinds of spiritual songs that are sung. “We will walk on streets of purest gold,” according to Ira Stanphill’s “Mansions Over the Hilltop.” A lot of people think about Heaven and look forward to being in a large and magnificent city.
These images come from Revelation 21 where John describes the “new Jerusalem.” The city is described as a roughly 1,380 mile cube (Revelation 21:16) with a golden street, a jasper wall having foundations of precious stones (Revelation 21:17-20), and the glory of God shining brightly (Revelation 21:11). There is no night there and no Temple; the Father and the Son dwell there all the time (Revelation 21:22-25). It sounds like a great place to go!
Yet a major aspect of the image– and part of its encouraging message– is lost when we think that the “new Jerusalem” is a city to which God’s people go. The “new Jerusalem” is also “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” as we see above, and that Bride is the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32).
And what is the Church? The Church is nothing more than its constituents: people (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 1 Peter 2:4-6)! Therefore, no one is going to be going to the city described– the redeemed of God will be the city!
No one is going to be walking the golden streets– those who conquer through the Lamb are the golden streets (cf. Revelation 21:7). The large city and the shining wall all represent the glory which God will bestow upon those who trusted in Him!
We ought to recognize that the picture of the “new Jerusalem” represents the best attempt that can be made of describing the indescribable, as is made evident from Romans 8:18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward.
For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory.
How can anyone describe that “eternal weight of glory”? Human language fails. To a small, persecuted, and mostly poor group of believers, the most fantastic image that can be imagined is a large city full of great wealth. For those conversant in the Old Testament, a city of gold with the glory of kings coming into it evokes the days of Solomon and the glory days of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 3-10).
Therefore, when we consider the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21, we ought not think of it as a place to which we are going as much as the glory which God eagerly awaits to bestow upon all those who conquer through the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (cf. Revelation 12:11). It is fantastic, wonderful, exhilarating, breathtaking, and beyond our wildest dreams.
This is, indeed, the call for the perseverance of the saints, and the invitation of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Do not go outside the city or remain outside the city in filth and defilement– obey God in Jesus Christ, be cleansed and purified in the blood of the Lamb, and let us not grow weary in pressing upward to be that city!
Ethan R. Longhenry