The City of Life

Most cities are known for certain distinguishing characteristics. Perhaps it is the architecture, the culture, the social opportunities, or some combination of features that make it unique. Whether it is a hamlet or a bustling metropolis, each is distinct. But there has never been nor ever can be one like the heavenly city God has prepared for His saints. Of necessity, it is identified with eternal life in God’s kingdom.

The heavenly city is completely unlike any in this world because God is its Builder and Maker, and He has established it for eternity (Heb. 11:10). Cities in this world are flawed at best, but the heavenly city is Paradise (Rev. 2:7). Cities in this world have crime, but the heavenly city knows only righteousness (Rev. 21:27). Cities in this world have their share of the poor and homeless, but everyone in the heavenly city has a dwelling place and experiences only complete fulfillment (Rev. 21:3-7).

The heavenly city exists even now, and our Lord Jesus Christ prepares a place in it for everyone who truly believes in Him and, therefore, belongs to Him (Jn. 14:1-4). It is the true Jerusalem, which the earthly Jerusalem temporarily and imperfectly represents as the capital city of God’s kingdom. And when God destroys this present creation and creates it anew, the heavenly city will be called New Jerusalem. It will descend out of the highest heaven and illumine the new creation because the glory of God will radiate from it.

These are certainly reasons for the Christian to look forward to heaven. However, as this book teaches, heaven’s greatest appeal is the fact that our holy God is forever present, dwelling among His holy people. For this reason, New Jerusalem is the city of glory (cf. Rev. 21:22-27). So heaven is more than just the place we will spend eternity; it is the perfect condition in which we will spend eternity with God. Eternal life is not simply a never ending existence but one that is enjoyed in holy fellowship with our Creator and Redeemer (Jn. 17:3).

Revelation 22:1-5 explains that New Jerusalem is also the city of life. Its distinguishing characteristics, which Christians will enjoy forever in God’s presence, are here described. Namely, its river, trees, throne, and light.

The City of Life
Its River (v. 1)
The apostle John first sees in this final description of the city, “a pure river of water of life.” The angel, who gives him this guided tour of New Jerusalem (v. 9), “showed” him its very real yet symbolic waterway. Dissimilar to any river on earth today, the one in heaven does not contain H2O as we know it. The liquid we must have now to sustain life on earth is not sufficient for eternal life in heaven, although it certainly is intended to foreshadow heavenly things (Jn. 4:10-14). The water in heaven’s only river is characterized by its eternal purity. It is “clear as crystal,” and likely enhances the eternal experience of those who drink it (cf. Rev. 21:6; 22:2; 17).

But the river forever flows primarily as a symbol of eternal life with God in Christ. Like many aspects of the city, the heavenly river is a memorial to what God has accomplished for the saints — a testament to His provision of eternal life for which they will forever glorify Him. It will serve as a constant reminder that He has quenched our soul’s thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6), but it is not necessary to sustain or eternal condition.

It is not itself the source of eternal life, but it is seen “proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” This emphasizes that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have sovereignly created us and provided atonement for our sins through Christ (God the Son incarnate) who is the Lamb of God. God, who is ever-present, sits exalted in heaven with the river of life flowing from His throne. Those in heaven will always have a reminder that eternal life is a gracious gift of their Almighty Creator and Redeemer.

Its Trees (v. 2)
Secondly, John sees what are apparently many trees in the city of life, and each of them is a “tree of life.” In the “middle” of what is possibly its only “street” (or at least its main thoroughfare), he finds the trees growing. He also sees them “on either side of the river.” The interior layout of the city is not clear, but we know that these magnificent trees add to its beauty. It is a garden paradise foreshadowed by the original Eden of this present creation.

A tree of life was found in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9). It was evidently enjoyed fully by Adam and Eve, being very much a real tree (Gen. 2:16). But like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it was primarily symbolic. It was a privilege to eat of the tree of life in the Garden, because it signified fellowship with God (Gen. 3:8), which is eternal life with all its accompanying blessings. That privilege was taken away when Adam and Eve chose to join Satan’s rebellion, declaring themselves judges of what was good and evil (Gen. 3:24). They no longer had a right relationship with God, which is the very essence of eternal life.

Eternal life is the experience of heaven’s citizens, and the privilege to eat of the tree of life is restored to humanity in New Jerusalem. It stands to reason that this very physical experience will only be enjoyed when we are fully glorified in resurrection. While the saints dwell with God in their glorified spirits now in heaven’s Jerusalem, they are not yet fully glorified. They may very well not partake of the tree of life as they will when it is called New Jerusalem.

In New Jerusalem, the tree of life bears “twelve fruits” — seemingly a different kind for each month. This surely signifies the abundant and endless blessings of eternal life. This fruit will obviously be edible and bring satisfaction to those who enjoy it, and they will, no doubt, praise God for satisfying their soul’s hunger for righteousness (Matt. 5:6).

The last part of the verse tells us: “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” We get our English word, “therapeutic,” from the word translated as “healing.” Since there is no sin in heaven, then there is no death, sorrow, crying or pain (21:4). This means there can be no sickness or disease. So the leaves are therapeutic in the sense of enhancing the heavenly experience in some way.

Like the water of life from the river, and the fruit of the tree of life, the leaves of the tree will bring satisfaction. It is worth noting that all our experiences in heaven will be satisfying and fulfilling in the most righteous way. Were it not for sin, our experience in this world would be totally satisfying, but such is the contrast of this world and the next.

Its Throne (vv. 3-4)
Thirdly, we see that the city of life will prominently display “the throne of God and the Lamb.” Everything else about the city is secondary to the presence of God. The Godhead (repeatedly identified by Their sovereignty in redemption) will be exalted in New Jerusalem, “and His servants shall serve Him.” Redeemed humanity will joyfully do the will of God forever.

As we saw in 21:7, there is no sin in the city because there are no sinners. There are only saints of God who have no desire other than to do what pleases God their King. They have been made holy through the atoning blood of Christ, and they dwell with their holy God. That is why the beginning of verse three says, “…there shall be no more curse.”

The curse God pronounced on the human race as a result of sin brought sorrow and suffering (Gen. 3:16-19). In the city of life, the saints will only experience the blessing and goodness of God who loves them. Christ, who bore the curse of sin for us on the cross, loved us and gave Himself for us that we might know the fullness of eternal life with God (Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24; Rev. 1:5).

This is why the throne of God and of the Lamb are exalted! Even now, Christians are no longer enemies of God, but we are reconciled to Him through faith in the Person and work of Christ (2 Cor. 5:15-21). In heaven, we will be completely holy, and we “shall see His face” in intimate fellowship without fear of death. We had no relationship to God before Christ reconciled us to Him. In New Jerusalem we will be clearly identified as His own personal possession (“His name shall be on their foreheads”). The language here stresses the eternal and intimate nature of God’s relationship with the saints.

Its Light (v. 5)
The final distinguishing characteristic of the city is its “light” — a salient feature already emphasized in 21:22-25. As explained in that passage, we again read: “There shall be no night there.” And if there is no night (i.e. no darkness), then there is no need for a source of artificial light. We need such sources of light in this universe because God in all His glory dwells outside of this creation. But that is not the case in the eternal new creation where He is Himself its holy light.

The citizens of New Jerusalem will not “need [a] lamp” or “light of the sun,” because “the Lord God gives them light.” God, who illumines the heavenly city now, will give light to the entire new creation as heaven literally infuses it (21:1-2). As we have already discovered, the light of His presence will radiate throughout the city and be refracted by it so that no darkness exists in the new heavens and earth.

As 21:24 taught us, “…the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light.” That is, all of redeemed humanity will in all places be in God’s holy presence living in complete righteousness. But while verse three said we will serve God in His presence, this verse adds, “And they shall reign forever and ever.” This is mankind’s original purpose — to serve God by reigning over His creation (Gen. 1:26-28; cf. Rev. 3:21), but we must exist in a holy relationship with God to accomplish it! The light is His holy presence in which we will live.

New Jerusalem is the city of life because all of its distinguishing characteristics remind the saints of the blessings of eternal life with God. The river of life, the tree of life, the throne of life, and the light of life will bring eternal joy and satisfaction to all of heaven’s citizens. And the more the true Christian discovers about this city from the pages of Scripture, the more he or she desires to be there.

David wrote: “You [LORD] will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). God is leading us heavenward to the city He has prepared for us, from which we will experience the blessings of eternal life in a new heavens and a new earth.

This is the city of all cities, and to live there requires that you be reconciled to God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. That is, you must know God, which is the essence of eternal life. Will you spend eternity in the city of life?

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© Copyright 1997-2016 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.

The City of Glory

Sometimes people speak of “heaven on earth.” They mean that an experience or circumstance, although temporary, is as good as it gets in this world. The eternal place where God dwells with His saints is, however, infinitely more than even the best we can imagine here. Yes, it is a paradise of incomprehensible beauty, and everyone there is completely fulfilled. But what makes it heaven is the glory of God — His holy presence and the holiness of His people.

It has been rightly said that this world is all the heaven sinners will ever enjoy and all the hell saints will ever suffer. The truth of this statement is clearly borne out in The Revelation of Jesus Christ. From the horror of the Tribulation to the happiness of the new creation, we find in this book the inheritance of sinners and saints sharply contrasted.

The present chapter has carried us from scenes of God’s judgment on unrepentant rebels into the blessed future of the Christian in God’s kingdom of righteousness. The central focus has become the heavenly Jerusalem, where God even now lives with redeemed humanity. Here the apostle John sees the city as the New Jerusalem, because it is the capital of the new creation. The sin and death that dominates this present creation will one day give way to an eternity with God where redeemed and resurrected people wholeheartedly serve Him.

We have so far discovered New Jerusalem as the home of saints (v. 9), glory of God (vv. 10-11), promise of Scripture (vv. 12-14), abode of God (vv. 15-17), and splendor of eternity (vv. 18-21). Now we are told it is the city of glory, since God will be ever-present and redeemed humanity will be perfect.

The City of Glory
God is Present (vv. 22-23)
Throughout this book, God’s throne in heaven has been noted (e.g. chps. 4-5), and we have found several references to the “temple” in heaven. It was mentioned in 3:12 when our Lord Jesus said to the church in Philadelphia: “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God…” (cf. 7:15; 11:19; 15:5-8). This is clearly an affirmation of the Christian’s permanent relationship with God through Christ.

But the apostle now tells us he “saw no temple in” New Jerusalem. What does he mean? The rest of verse 22 explains: “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” The temple of God in heaven is not merely a building where His glory is manifest. Rather, it is the fullness of His glorious presence! The sovereign Trinity, including Christ as Mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5-6), fill heaven with Their limitless presence.

The earthly temples built by Israel have been and will be incapable of containing God, since even the highest heaven cannot do that (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chron. 2:6; 6:18). Only His glory was manifest in past temples, and even in the Millennial temple the glorified Christ is not the fullest presence of the Trinity among humanity (Rev. 20:4-6; Ezek. 40-48). No human being in their natural body, not even a true believer, can survive in the presence of God’s full glory. Moses wanted to see God’s glory, but the Lord only showed him a restricted manifestation. To Moses God said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live” (Ex. 33:20). The Almighty has spoken with men, and He has displayed His glory in limited fashion, but none can see His full glory until heaven, lest they die (cf. Ex. 19:10-25; 20:19; Deut. 5:24; Judges 13:22; Job 42:5-6; Is. 6:5).

It is in New Jerusalem only that God in His fullness will dwell with human beings. As 21:3 explained: “…the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” A temple structure is not necessary to represent God’s holy presence, since He will actually dwell among the saints who themselves will live there in the sinless perfection of resurrection glory. All that is righteous exists in God and with God in heaven.

The full glory of God will shine in New Jerusalem! That is, His holiness as God is the central focus of the new creation as it is in heaven now (Rev. 4:8-11). Everyone there (as we will see) is drawn to Him in worship. He is even now the source of spiritual light for all of His holy creatures — human and angelic. But in heaven, the perfection of His Person visibly illumines everything. The emphasis here is the effect of God’s presence on redeemed humanity whose citizenship is in this heavenly city (and whose eternal experience will be in the new creation). Verse 23 tells us “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it.” This tells us quite plainly that all the light sources in our present universe are simply representative of the glory God. Remember God first declared the presence of light in this universe before He ever created luminary objects (Gen. 1:3; 14-18).

It stands to reason that this initial light was either the eternal light of His glory shining on the otherwise darkened creation, or it was physical light itself but with no physical source. Stars like our “sun” generate energy and radiate light by atomic reaction and were created to represent the glory of God in the cosmos (Ps. 19:1-6ff). Celestial bodies like earth and its “moon,” reflect light and represent how we should reflect the image of our Creator in a moral sense. Genesis 1:14-16 explains these as “signs.” From our earthly perspective, the sun is a “greater light to rule the day” (a source) and the moon a “lesser light to rule the night” (a reflection of the source).

This is seen in the final sentence of this verse: “The Lamb is its light.” In heaven, there is no need of another light source to remind us of God, because the Trinity will be present. The very Source of the supernatural light of truth will forever be in the midst of His people. And our Lord Jesus Christ, who is (as the God/Man) the express image of God and Redeemer of the saints (Heb. 1:3), is there exalted as the Light of men — the Way, the Truth, and the Life, having led Christians to the total righteousness of heaven. Like Him, they will fully be a reflection of God’s holiness (Jn. 1:4-5; 14:6).

As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “…it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In other words, God’s purpose in creation was for those created in His personal image and likeness to love Him and do His will. He permitted sin with redemption in mind, so that the redeemed would see His glory in their Redeemer, and through faith in Him ultimately come to reflect that same glory in the moral perfection of resurrection life.

New Jerusalem is the city of glory because God is present there. And our Lord Jesus Christ who, in His humanity, reflects God’s glorious image perfectly, has led His saints to the heavenly city to also live in sinless perfection in His presence.

Humanity is Perfect (vv. 24-27)
What God has all along intended for humanity will be reality in eternity. There “the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light.” That is, the redeemed of every ethnic group in this present world will, in the new creation, live in the glory of God. This means they will do His will because they love Him. The “glory and honor” of the “kings of the earth” (v. 24) and “of the nations” (v. 26) will be to reflect God’s glory by doing what is right in His sight. This is why mankind was created, and it is why the elect have been redeemed.

Verse 25 explains that the “gates” of New Jerusalem “shall not be shut at all by day (for there shall be no night there).” When we studied the city’s walls and gates earlier in the chapter, we noted that cities of the past were walled for protection. The gates were opened only during the day and that only in times of peace. This is never the case in New Jerusalem or the new creation.

Since the glory of God permanently illuminates the entire new creation, the absence of night means the absence of spiritual darkness as well. There is absolutely no sin to be found because there are no sinners! That is what verse 27 means: “There shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie.” It will not be possible for moral impurity — which God hates and which is diametrically opposed to the reality of righteousness — to come into New Jerusalem, because its citizens (who populate the new creationz) are saints.

Everyone in God’s kingdom will live in His new creation where only righteousness exists (2 Pet. 3:13). They will come and go from the glorious city of God because that is where their eternal citizenship rests. As the last part of verse 27 makes clear: “only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” can pass through its gates. And that book is the registry of heaven’s citizens, which was recorded before this present world was ever created (Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12; cf. Phil. 3:20; 4:3; Heb. 12:23).

New Jerusalem is the city of glory because God is forever present there, and so are His saints. Our holy God will dwell with His holy people in the eternity of heaven and its kingdom. His perfect presence will always illuminate the new creation where humanity will always reflect His glory.

Is that the heaven you long to live in forever? Heaven is most definitely not on this earth. The best that it can be here falls immeasurably short of the perfection to be experienced in the city of glory.

Do you want to reflect God’s glory? Our Lord Jesus said that we must be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). That is possible only through faith in Christ, the Lamb of God, who became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). Only He can bring you into the city of glory.

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© Copyright 1997-2016 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.