We have seen that Revelation begins (ch 1) and ends (ch 22) saying that the things predicted in the book will happen shortly after the time that John wrote the letter. Then in ch 17 we saw that the letter was written while Nero, the 6th emperor of Rome, was still living. He died in 68 AD, so the book was written before 68 AD. We have seen that the theme of the book is the “avenging of the blood of the apostle, prophets, and saints (ch 18). We have seen that the “great city” is where the Lord Jesus was crucified (11:8), and is the same as the woman (17:19), which is the same as “Babylon” that fell (ch 17,18). Thus, the great city, Babylon, is Jerusalem, not Rome as many have thought. We have seen the wrath of God poured out on the old Jerusalem in 70 AD as the sea beast Rome turned on the harlot woman Jerusalem and “burned her with fire” (ch 17).
So it is sequential that ch 21 begins with a “new Jerusalem” coming down out of heaven to replace the “old Jerusalem” that has been destroyed in 70 AD. This new Jerusalem is described as the “bride of the Lamb”. This obviously refers to the church of the new covenant, which is described as the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22), the “bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5:22; 2 Corinthians 11:2). This new Jerusalem is not a physical city, but a spiritual one, the very body of Christ, the church. This new Jerusalem replaces the old Jerusalem soon after the letter is written, so it is not predicting a rebuilding of the physical city of Jerusalem at some time in our future, a many have predicted. Jesus never came to establish a physical kingdom built around the physical city of Jerusalem, as was the case under the old covenant. Under the old covenant, the Jewish nation was God’s chosen nation, but under the new covenant, the church is God’s chosen nation (1 Peter 2:9), a spiritual kingdom made up of Jewish and Gentile believers of all nations and ages since the establishment of the church in the book of Acts.
Ch 21 also says that the old heavens and earth passed away, obviously at the same time that the old Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. The old heavens and earth was replaced by a new heavens and earth, and that had to happen shortly after the writing of the letter. Obviously the physical heavens and earth were not destroyed shorting after John wrote the letter, so it it is talking about that. We conclude that is symbolic of a new order of things in the Messianic Age. The old heavens and earth would be the old Jewish order of things under the old covenant, and the new heavens and earth would the the new order of things under the new covenant in the Messianic Age. Since the destruction of the old heavens and earth is not a physical destruction of the heavens and earth, the replacement new heavens and earth is not a physical thing. The new Jerusalem is called a “heavenly Jerusalem”, so this fits a new heavenly spiritual order of things. Isaiah had predicted a new heavens and earth with a new Jerusalem with no more weeping or crying (Isaiah 65:17-19), and that this new heavens and earth would endure forever (66:22). Isaiah connects the new Jerusalem with the new heavens and earth. Since the new Jerusalem is the church, we expect the new heavens and earth of Isaiah to be a spiritual fulfillment also. Peter must be referring to this promise in 2 Peter 3:13 of a new heavens and new earth. The only place in the Old Testament that predicts a new heavens and earth is in Isaiah 65,66. But is Peter in 2 Peter 3 predicting a physical destruction of the old heavens and earth at some time in our future, yet to be fulfilled? Is he predicting that the elements of the earth will be physically destroyed and that God will then rebuild the heavens and earth with a new physical heavens and earth? Many have taught that, but Peter in 2 Peter 3 is predicting the destruction of the old Jewish system, the old heavens and earth, and replacing it with the new order of things in the Messianic system of the new covenant. He is predicting the same thing as John did in Revelation 21. But doesn’t it say that the “elements will be burned up”? Yes, but study the Greek word for “elements”. It is used several times in the New Testament and it always refers to the elemental rules of the Law or of pagan religions. It never refers to the physical elements of the earth, such as Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, etc. 2 Peter 3 is a symbolic description of the destruction of the old Jewish system in 70 AD and replacing it with the new Messianic system. The context of 1 and 2 Peter demands this interpretation also. In 1 Peter 4:7, Peter had predicted that the “end of all things is near”. If he was predicting that the end and destruction of the physical earth was near at the time of writing, then he was a false prophet since that did not occur. If he was predicting that the end of the Jewish system was near, then that was fulfilled in 70 AD and he was a true prophet, and that is the case. So he follows up that 1st letter shortly thereafter with the 2nd letter. His prediction of the destruction of the old heavens and earth in 2 Peter 3 would have to fit the time frame of 1 Peter 4:7, “the end of all things is near”. If not, then the end of all things was near but the end of the old heavens and earth would not be near (still left to be fulfilled even today). The 1st and 2nd letter cannot contradict themselves. If 2 Peter 3 does not predict a physical destructon of the heavens and earth, then does the Bible even predict such an event. Not to my knowledge. Several passsages state that the heavens and earth will endure forever. I’m sure God could decide to change His mind in the future and destroy this earth, but the Bible just doesn’t predict such an event. So it is very important to study 2 Peter 3 as we study Revelation 21:1 and the passing of the old heavens and earth, i.e. the old Jewish system and order.
21:3 also says that, after the destruction of the old Jerusalem, the tabernacle of God would be among men and that God would dwell among men. Ezekiel had predicted that when the Messiah would come that God would then dwell among His people and that His sanctuary would be in their midst forever (Ezekiel 37:27,28). That sanctuary would be the same as the tabernacle that John saw in Revelation 21. The tabernacle of the old covenant contained the Holy of Holies where God dwelt on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. That of course was a symbolic thing because we know God dwells in his temple in the heavens (Revelation 14:17), and Stephen said that God did not dwell in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48). So we conclude that this tabernacle among men in Rev 21 is the dwelling of God in His church. We are familiar with the fact that the New Testament tells us that God dwelt in the Christians through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and that indwelling was tangible, visible proof that God’s presence was, and still is, in Christians. This is a spiritual indwelling, since, again, God’s actual presence fills the universe.
In this new Jerusalem and tabernacle among men there will be no more crying, death, or pain. Often this has been interpreted as heaven itself, but this actually refers to the spiritual blessings of being in God’s church right here on earth in the Messianic Age (which has been here since the book of Acts). Passages like Isaiah 35:10 predict that in the church we will have everlasting joy and “sorrow and sighing” will flee away. Isaiah 25:8 predicts that in the Messianic Age death will be swallowed up and God will wipe away all tears from all faces. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:52ff that some of those he was writing to would still be alive when this passage was fulfilled and when death would be swallowed up in victory. “No more death, crying, or pain” therefore refers to the spiritual state of joy for Christians even though they may shed tears, feel pain, and die. Now heaven will be a continuation of that joy, even removing physical pain, crying, and death, but Revelation 21:4 is talking about God’s church on earth, not heaven.
One of the angels who had had the 7 bowls of wrath shows John another vision of the new Jerusalem, the bride of the lamb (again, the church). This vision is of a great city, with walls with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel, and foundation stones with the names of the 12 apostles of Jesus. The new covenant church began as a Jewish Christian church and its foundation was the apostles (Ephesians 2:20), although the chief corner stone of that foundation was Jesus, of course. There were many precious stones in this city, and streets of gold. Again, this refers to the church, the new Jerusalem that replaced the old Jerusalem in 70 AD. Many times preachers have taught us that it refers to streets of gold in heaven, but that is not the case. This description is similar to Ezekiel’s prediction of a new Messianic temple in Ezekiel 40-48, which is also symbolic of the building of the church, not some physical temple on earth. Zechariah 6:12 says that the branch Jesus would build the temple of the Lord, i.e. the church, the tabernacle of Rev 21.
21:22 makes a significant statement that in this new Jerusalem there would be no temple because God and the Lamb are its temple. This can only mean that there will be no physical temple in this new Jerusalem in the Messianic Age. Of course, we have already seen that God dwells in His church, the tabernacle, the temple, and so there is no need or desire for a physical temple any longer. Oh how this contradicts the teaching of so many who expect the physical temple to be rebuilt some day! There will be no need for the sun or moon because the glory of God illuminates it and the Lamb is its lamp (Jesus is the light of the world). There is no night there and the gates will never be closed (again, symbolic of the church). The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into this new Jerusalem. We are reminded of the several times when Isaiah predicts that the nations, the Gentiles, will be brought in to the church on equal footing with the Jews in the church. Those Christian converts from among the Gentiles are the glory of the nations! Isaiah 66 predicts the destruction of the old Jerusalem and the establishment of the new Jerusalem, and says that brethren from the nations will be brought into the new Jerusalem and will be made priests and Levites. This can only refer to the church where all Jew and Gentile Christians are priests.
In ch 22 there is a river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God in this new Jerusalem church. This river is predicted by Ezekiel in Ezekiel 47 and 48. The tree of life that was lost in the Garden of Eden is restored, bearing fruit year round and for the spiritual healing of the nations. There will no more curse, for as Galatians 3 tells us, Jesus bore the curse of sin for us by dying on the cross. Those in this new Jerusalem church will see God’s face. While that might sound literal, we know that no one can see the face of God in its fullest. Instead, with God dwelling in us, we can see the face of God spiritually through faith through this new indwelling relationship with God, a new intimacy with Him. This is not talking about heaven some day, but the here and now in the church. The saints in the church will reign forever and ever in eternal life. As per the article on Revelation 20, the 1000 year reign refers symbolically to the 40 year period between the establishment of the church in 30 AD and the destruction of the old Jerusalem and the old heavens and earth in 70 AD. The saints reigned during that time, and at the end of the 1000 years, Satan is released and allowed to bring Gog and Magog, i.e. the Roman army, to surround the holy city Jerusalem and attack it. Since this is still things to happen shortly after the time of writing, it can only refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The end of the 1000 year reign must be before 70 AD when Satan is released. But notice that in Revelation 22:5 the saints will reign forever. This is an accurate description of the reigning of the martyrs after 70 AD. They will reign for a 40 year period but then after 70 AD, they will continue to reign and forever. We have that promise to reign forever in eternal life after we die also.
As we have repeated often, the last chapter ends just as it began: the time was near for the fulfillment of the predictions in this book, including chapters 21 and 22. I highly recommend reading the book, The Parousia, by James Steward Russell (you can read it online free). The author, even in the late 1800’s, accurately understand the fulfillment of all prophecy and would agree with everything I have written about Revelation being fulfilled in 70 AD. But then, for some strange reason, he says that Revelation 21 and 22 were not fulfilled in 70 AD, but would be fulfilled later after 70 AD (going on 2,000 years now “later” and still unfulfilled). I can’t imagine why he left the context and took that view on the last two chapters of Revelation.
In chapter 22, Jesus also says that He is “coming quickly”. This coming is obviously connected with the prediction of the destruction of the old Jerusalem in 70 AD. In Matthew 24 Jesus predicts the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple with the lifetime of the generation of Jews to whom he was speaking, i.e. 70 AD, but He also refers to that event as His coming in the clouds with the moon turning to blood, etc. That kind of figurative language is used several times in the Old Testament, not of the literal turning of the moon into blood, but of the judgment of nations like Babylon. Thus Revelation is not only predicting the destruction of the old Jerusalem in 70 AD, but is also predicting an imminent coming of Jesus to judge the Jews in 70 AD. Of course, the preterist position shows that the 2nd coming of Jesus as predicted by Jesus and the apostles was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus in judgement on the Jews in 70 AD using the Romans to do His avenging of the blood of the apostles, prophets, and saints. Some say that Jesus coming “quickly” only refers to a sudden coming and not an imminent one at the time of writing. But notice the context in Rev 21:12: His coming quickly was to either punish the evil Jews and to reward the faithful Jews, and that occurred soon, in 70 AD. The predictions of Revelation are not to be sealed. That is significant. Daniel made several predictions of 70 AD and the abomination of desolation, i.e. the destruction of the the temple, and the end of the Jewish age in 70 AD. But at the end of the book of Daniel, he is told to seal up the predictions because there will be about 600 years before they will be fulfilled. But Rev 21:10 John is told not to seal up the predictions of Revelation, which fits the statements about things shortly to come to pass, near.
The book closes with an invitation from the Spirit and the bride to come and drink freely of the water of life. John Milton wrote Paradise Lost, and then he wrote Paradise Restored. Genesis 1-3 is Paradise Lost, and Revelation 21-22 is Paradise restored. Not a restoration of a physical Garden or a renewed earth as many others predict, but a spiritual restoration of the tree of life for all believers in the spiritual new Jerusalem, the church of Jesus Christ, in a spiritual kingdom. That has been made available to all believers since God completed his plans and predictions in 70 AD. It bothers me greatly when Bible scholars interpret the book of Revelation as some physical renewal of the earth some day in the future. That view takes away from the spiritual fullness of the blessings we have in the new Jerusalem today. It encourages believers to put their hope in something physical in the future instead of the spiritual that we already have. It encourages them to be constantly trying to figure out world events trying to see how they might be fulfilled prophecies (which they are not). It encourages many to give financial support to the unbelieving state of Israel as if they are a vital part of God’s future plans (which they are not). God loves all people, and He loves all unbelieving Jews and wants them to become Christians. But in Matthew 21:43 Jesus said that the kingdom of God would be taken from the Jewish nation in 70 AD and given to a nation that would produce fruit for God, which can only refer to the spiritual nation, the church, of 1 Peter 2:9. Read Matthew 21:43 and see if it doesn’t say very clearly what I just stated.
I guess that concludes my blog article on Revelation. I hope the study has helped you understand this book. I believe that the early readers understood it, and I believe we can understand what they understood. We might not be able to interpret every single verse, and some of the symbolic language is difficult to interpret, but we can easily interpret the main thrust of the book. I don’t think the correct interpretation of Revelation is a matter of heaven and hell, but I do think it is a very important study.