The Millennial Reign of Christ
Views of the Millennium
A major division in the theology of the church has been concerning the question whether there will be a 1,000-year reign of Christ after His second coming. Both the postmillennial and the amillennial views hold that fulfillment of the Millennium is achieved before His second coming, with amillenarians more or less explaining away any literal fulfillment. Accordingly, this chapter should be carefully studied to see what its contribution is and whether it teaches a kingdom on earth of which Christ will be King of kings and Lord of lords following His second coming. It will be seen that the events of Revelation 19:11–20:15 are chronologically presented with the events logically following the Second Coming as effect follows cause. There is no suggestion in the text of any interruption of the natural consequences of the Second Coming.
Chapter 20 along with Revelation 19 form two of the most important chapters in the Scripture on prophecy of future events. Revelation 20, in particular, deals with the question as to whether there is a Millennium on earth after the second coming of Christ.
There are a bewildering number of diverse interpretations. Among those who are premillennial who view the kingdom as following the second coming of Christ, there are three schools of thought: those who follow a historical fulfillment of the Book of Revelation, believing that some events of Revelation 6–18 are being fulfilled now. They hold that the Second Advent and the kingdom which follows is literal, but that much of the preliminary material, Revelation 6–18, has in some sense been fulfilled.
In the twentieth century another form of premillennialism has arisen which emphasizes the soteriological character of it, and this point of view attempts to find some ground of common faith with the postmillennial and amillennial viewpoints. This form of premillennialism tends to downplay the role of Israel and the political character of the millennial kingdom.
The majority view among premillenarians, however, is that the kingdom following the second coming of Christ is a fulfillment of God’s theocratic program, and in keeping with the promise given to David that his kingdom and throne would continue forever over Israel. Those who interpret the prophecies literally view Christ as reigning supremely over the entire world as a political leader, beginning with the Second Coming. This viewpoint is often called the dispensational point of view, but a preferable designation would be that they hold to a literal kingdom on earth. That such a kingdom is soteriological is also evident, and that it has spiritual qualities also is self-evident, but this view takes into consideration the fact that Christ fulfills in a literal way what was prophesied in the Scripture concerning the kingdom on earth.
The amillennial interpretation, which is probably the majority view of the church today, tends to minimize the promise of a kingdom on earth. Amillenarians are not all agreed as to how to arrive at this conclusion. Their viewpoint is called amillennial because their view is nonmillennial, that is, there will be no literal kingdom on earth with Christ reigning on the throne. The amillenarians vary a great deal as to how they arrive at this conclusion.
Some feel, like Augustine, that the entire present age is the millennial kingdom and that God is reigning in the hearts of men who put their trust in Him. This, of course, does not provide any literal fulfillment of the millennial kingdom.
Some hold that the millennial kingdom is being fulfilled in heaven through Christ’s spiritual reign over the earth. Often they do not consider the period a literal 1,000 years, and they minimize the literal meaning of the prophecies relating to it.
Some amillenarians now hold that the Millennium will be fulfilled in the new heaven and new earth in eternity. Therefore, it does not need to be fulfilled now. The problem with all of these points of view characteristic of amillennialism and postmillennialism is that they do not provide an intelligent explanation of many passages in the Old Testament and in the New Testament which teach a literal kingdom. This is true also of Revelation 20.
The Binding of Satan
Revelation 20:1–3. John recorded what he saw concerning the binding of Satan, “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time” (vv. 1–3). John saw an angel who had the key to the Abyss, the natural home of Satan and the fallen angels. As he watched, he saw the dragon, or Satan, bound with a great chain, thrown into the Abyss, and the opening was sealed and locked with the statement that it will not be opened until 1,000 years later. While he could see that Satan was being bound and cast into the Abyss with the obvious point being that Satan will be unable to be active any longer, in addition to what he saw he heard the interpretation that this binding of Satan could last 1,000 years and the purpose was to prevent Satan from deceiving the nations.
Inasmuch as the revelation of the duration is a matter of direct divine revelation which John was told, the 1,000 years must be also taken as a literal figure because it was revealed by God as the duration of this event. If God were in any way to try to describe the literal binding of Satan and his being inactive for 1,000 years, He could not have done it in any more graphic or clear way than He has done in these three verses.
The events of verses 1–3 are clearly chronological in order and in total support of the premillennial interpretation. The passage makes clear that Satan is not simply restricted, as some would teach, but he is totally inactive in the Millennium. By contrast, the New Testament teaches that Satan is still very much alive and well in the present age. In Acts 5:3 Ananias and Sapphira were declared to be filled with Satan and motivated by him in lying about their sale of property. In 2 Corinthians 4:3–4 the statement is made that Satan was very active in blinding the eyes of those who hear the Gospel so that they will not see it and understand it. In 11:14 Satan was declared to be an angel of light, appearing in religious guise, deceiving the church through false teaching. According to Ephesians 2:2, the unsaved are working in the power of Satan. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 Satan was revealed to have hindered Paul in his desire to come to the Thessalonians. In 2 Timothy 2:26 unsaved people were declared to be taken captive and can only be saved by the grace of God. The most decisive text is in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
These passages teach dramatically that Satan is not bound in the present age, and though he is somewhat restricted by God, as in the case of Job, Christians can depend on God’s protecting power. Satan is, nevertheless, very active in the world and a leader in all its rebellion against God. The 1,000 years will follow the Second Coming.
The Resurrection of the Tribulation Saints
Revelation 20:4–6. With Satan out of the way, the revelation now turns to what God will do for the saints in this period. John wrote, “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the Word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (v. 4).
Those who had refused to worship the beast had been executed, and a great host of martyrs went to heaven during the time of the Great Tribulation. This had happened in the three-and-one-half years preceding the Second Coming. They are described as “a great multitude” (7:9). Here they are resurrected and honored because they had not received the mark of the beast, and the purpose of the resurrection is that they would reign with Christ 1,000 years. This is a very clear support for a millennial kingdom following the second coming of Christ. The chronology is quite evident.
These martyred dead were killed in the period just before the Second Coming. Now Christ causes the saints who had been martyred in the Tribulation, which was only a short period before the Second Coming, to be resurrected in order to reign with Christ for 1,000 years. There is no way to avoid the implication that the Millennium is subsequent to the second coming of Christ in this passage as it is subsequent to the death and resurrection of the martyrs. As such, the premillennial view is supported.
The attempts to avoid premillennialism have required extreme methods of explaining away this passage. Some amillenarians interpret the resurrection of the martyred dead as their new birth. This, of course, would be entirely out of sequence because they were born again in the Great Tribulation and they were martyred in that situation. Now they are resurrected, and it could not refer to them as being born again on this occasion.
Scriptures go on to describe further their situation, “(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended). This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years” (20:5–6). This resurrection is “first” in the sense of being first or before the resurrection of the wicked. Obviously, Christ was the first to be raised if the resurrections of Scripture are numbered.
Revelation 20:7–15. The lot of those who are resurrected from the dead is declared to be a blessed event for them, and it promises that they will not be subject to the second death, referring to the judgment of the Great White Throne in verses 11–15. Furthermore, they are declared to be priests of God and Christ. This, apparently, refers to the fact that they will have a special significance as martyrs and will have a special role in the millennial kingdom.
The interpretation of this passage of Revelation illustrates an important point. While prophecy is sometimes presented in symbolic form which has to be interpreted, when the symbolic act is interpreted, one is not free to spiritualize the interpretation. In verses 1–6, while it is presented as a vision which needs interpretation, the interpretation, when given, speaks of the solid fact that Satan needs to be bound for 1,000 years and that the Tribulation saints will be resurrected to reign with Christ in the millennial kingdom. There is no ground for spiritualization of these statements, and that is why many conclude that the premillennial explanation of the second coming of Christ as preceding the Millennium is justifiably supported by Scripture.
The question has been raised concerning those who are seated on the throne to judge (v. 4). Many Scriptures contribute to the fact that saints will share in the reign of Christ. Jesus told His disciples, “And I confer on you a kingdom, just as My Father conferred one on Me, so that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:29–30).
Obviously, those who reign with Christ will not have equal status but will be subject to Christ and be acting on His behalf. The millennial kingdom as such, however, is not discussed, except that it is clear that it will begin with the second coming of Christ and will end with judgment on the world and a creation of a new heaven and new earth.
Major Features of the Millennium
The millennial kingdom, which will run its course before the events which climax it, is described at length in many passages in the Scripture. Though the exact figure of 1,000 years is not mentioned except in Revelation 20, the fact of a kingdom which has long duration is clearly the intent of the prophetic passages (Isa. 2:2–4; 11:4–9; Ps. 72; etc.). According to the Old Testament, Jerusalem will be the capital of the millennial kingdom (Isa. 2:3). War will cease (v. 4). The millennial kingdom will be characterized by righteousness, peace, and tranquility, and there will be justice for all the oppressed (11:3–5). Even the ferocity of beasts will be tamed (vv. 6–9). Isaiah summarized the thought in verse 9, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea,” as indicated in Isaiah 11:11–16; Jeremiah 23:3–4, 8; 30:3–9; 31:3–14.
Psalm 72 as well as many other psalms give the glowing prophetic picture of the future Millennium. The future is described as flourishing, the government as righteous, and abundant peace is promised as long as the moon endures. All kings bow down before Christ, and His rule extends from sea to sea. The earth will be filled with the glory of God. The desire of nations for peace, righteousness, knowledge of the Lord, economic justice, and deliverance from Satan will all have its prophetic fulfillment. The major factors of the Millennium, including Christ’s absolute power, will include the perfect and righteous government and ideal circumstances on the earth. In many respects the rule of Christ as the last Adam replaces what God had intended for Adam who was placed in charge of the Garden of Eden.
Many passages in the Old Testament emphasize the fact that Israel will have a prominent place. According to Ezekiel 20:33–38, at the time of the Second Coming Israel will experience a purging judgment, and only the righteous, godly remnant will be allowed to enter the kingdom. Israel, pictured in the Old Testament as being an untrue wife, will now be rejoined to Christ in the symbol of marriage and experience the love of Christ (Hosea 1:10–11; 2:14–23).
Though Israel will enjoy the blessings of being regathered to her ancient land and under the special rule of Christ, the rest of the world will also experience the rule of Christ as King of kings. The nation of Israel, however, will also have the benefits of the rule of David resurrected from the dead as a regent of Christ (Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 34:23–24; 37:24–25).
The Final Rebellion against Christ
Revelation 20:7–9. John described the climax of the millennial kingdom, “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth-Gog and Magog-to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city He loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (vv. 7–9).
At the end of the Millennium Satan will be released and will go out and deceive the nations (vv. 7–8). The nations are referred to as “Gog and Magog” (v. 8). This has confused some who try to connect this with Ezekiel 38 and 39. The war of Ezekiel is an invasion of Israel from the North by Russia and a few other nations. By a series of judgments from God, the armies are completely wiped out and months are spent in burying the bodies.
The battle here is totally different. Those who form the attackers come from all nations of the world, not just a few. They gather about the city of Jerusalem in attempting to capture the capital city, but fire comes down from heaven and devours them. The war of Ezekiel 38–39 is far north of Jerusalem. The time situation is different.
The war of Ezekiel 38–39 occurs at a time when Israel is at peace and not expecting war. The battle here is at the end of the millennial kingdom and is Satan’s final attempt to conquer the world. There is no need to bury the dead bodies because they have been consumed by fire in contrast to Ezekiel 38–39. Life does not go on after this battle as in Ezekiel for the world immediately moves into the new heaven and new earth situation.
People have asked the question why Satan will be loosed from his prison after the 1,000 years. This action is in keeping with God’s purpose to demonstrate in history that man left to his own devices will, nevertheless, sin against God. Even though the Millennium provided a perfect environment for humanity with abundant revelation of God’s power, the evil heart of man is manifest in the fact that people reject Christ and follow Satan when he is loosed. The loosing of Satan also is a demonstration of the wickedness of Satan and the fallen angels and how even 1,000 years in confinement does not change this.
Satan Cast into the Lake of Fire
Revelation 20:10. The wickedness of Satan is the basis for justifying God’s judgment on Satan who is here thrown into the lake of burning sulfur (v. 10). Important to note is the fact that the beast and the false prophet, who had been thrown into the lake of burning sulfur 1,000 years before, are still there, demonstrating that this is not annihilation but continued punishment. The beast and the false prophet as well as the devil are included in the statement, “They will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (v. 10).
The Great White Throne Judgment
Revelation 20:11–15. John then recorded the change in the scene and introduced the revelation concerning the Great White Throne and the judgment of the wicked dead. He wrote, “Then I saw a Great White Throne and Him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from His presence, and there was no place for them” (v. 11). Though the word “throne” appears some thirty times in the Book of Revelation, this is a reference to a throne different than any previously mentioned, and, accordingly, it is called “a Great White Throne.” Unlike the previous thrones on earth or heaven, it is pictured as being in space and occupied by Christ Himself.
This is supported by the statement in John 5:22–23, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent Him.” Like the Judgment Seat of Christ which took place in heaven before the Millennium, this judgment does not have its scene on earth but in space.
The fact that earth and sky fled from the presence of the One on the throne is in keeping with Revelation 21:1 where a new heaven and a new earth is introduced. As John watched, he saw this great judgment taking place, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:12–15).
As this text makes plain, this is the final judgment. As the righteous have already been judged, this judgment relates to the wicked. This is the final resurrection in contrast to the first resurrection which had to do with the righteous (Dan. 12:2; John 5:29; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:5).
The fact that both small and great are specified is similar to descriptions previously used in Revelation (11:18; 13:16; 19:5, 18). Those standing before the throne come from all walks of life, but now are being judged on the basis of their works. According to Hebrews 9:27, everyone has to face Christ in judgment. The judgment is based on what occurs in the books which record their works and whether their names are in the Book of Life.
The Book of Life is presented as including the names of all who are genuinely saved. The description of this resurrection indicates that it is a universal resurrection of all that are yet in the grave, that is, the unrighteous. Special mention is made of the sea as giving up the dead in it because bodies lost at sea disintegrate and are scattered as far as the particles of their human bodies are concerned. This is no problem for an omnipotent God, and their bodies are raised from the dead in the sea. Hades is also declared to give up “the dead that were in it” (v. 13), and those in hades were thrown into the lake of fire.
Distinction in Scripture should be observed between hades, which is the place of the dead between death and resurrection, and the lake of fire which is the final destiny of those who are unsaved. The resurrection of the wicked is distinguished from the resurrection of the righteous in that there is no reward or recognition of righteousness on their part.
Like the righteous, they are given bodies which cannot be destroyed. But while the righteous receive bodies that are holy and suited for the presence of God, the wicked dead receive bodies that are indestructible and suited for eternal punishment. They are still wicked and still in rebellion against God. The Scriptures are very clear that if anyone’s name is not found in the Book of Life, he will be thrown in the lake of fire.
Many have attempted to find some escape for the wicked so that they would not be the objects of eternal punishment. From a human viewpoint this may be desired, but the Bible never suggests that the punishment of the wicked continues only for a time. If the beast and the false prophet after 1,000 years in the lake of fire are still intact, it is obvious that those who are now being thrown into the lake of fire will, likewise, continue in the place of torment. Christ Himself emphasized the destiny of the wicked (Matt. 13:42; 25:41, 46). In Revelation 14:11 those who received the mark of the beast were declared to be the objects of eternal punishment. Scriptural revelation limits the destiny of mankind to either heaven or the lake of fire.
The New Heaven, New Earth and New Jerusalem
Revelation 21:1–8. Having revealed the destruction of the old earth and the old heaven, John wrote that he saw what will take its place-a new heaven, new earth, and a New Jerusalem, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (v. 1). Scriptural revelation gives very little information about the new heaven and the new earth, except by inferring that it is quite different than our present earth. The only major characteristic mentioned is that there will not be any longer any sea in contrast to the present situation where most of the earth is covered with water. It is apparent as the narration goes on that the new earth is round because there are directions of north, south, east, and west (v. 13), but there is no indication as to whether the new earth is larger or smaller than our present earth.
Instead of focusing on the new earth and a new heaven, Revelation deals with the subject of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. John wrote, “I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (v. 2). The New Jerusalem is totally different than the old Jerusalem on the present earth and is created to be the center of population in the new earth.
Without explanation John stated that the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven from God. Though the new earth and new heaven are created at this time, apparently the New Jerusalem was created earlier. As the New Jerusalem will not be on the millennial earth, some have postulated the possibility that the New Jerusalem will be a satellite city over the earth during the Millennium and as such would be the home of resurrected and translated saints. They would be able to go from the New Jerusalem to the millennial earth much as people today have their home in the country and go to the office in the city. This would solve the problem of where the millions of resurrected and translated people live during the period when on earth there will be a population still living their natural lives, and no picture of the millennial earth takes into consideration the millions of those who are not in their natural bodies but who are serving the Lord. Because this has such a slender basis, however, it is a doctrine that cannot be dogmatically held.
The New Jerusalem is mentioned earlier in Scripture in a few passages (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 3:12). Several of these predictions of the New Jerusalem were found in a context where millennial truth is being discussed, and this has confused expositors as to how to relate the New Jerusalem to the millennial period. The answer is that in revealing future events, often events that are separated by time are merged as if they were in existence together. This is especially true, for instance, of the first and second comings of Christ which in the Old Testament often are mentioned in the same verse (Isa. 61:1–2; cf. Luke 4:17–19). In a similar way in Daniel 12:2, the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked are mentioned in the same verse, but later revelation reveals that there will be 1,000 years between the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the wicked. In Malachi 4:5 the second coming of Christ is followed in verse 6 by reference to His first coming. In the New Testament as well, similar events are put together that were separated by time as in 2 Peter 3:10–13 which refers to the beginning of the Day of the Lord but then recounts events such as the destruction of the heaven and the earth which will take place at the end of the Day of the Lord as well as the end of the Millennium.
The absence of any sea in the new earth also makes it clear that this is not the Millennium as some have tried to hold, for bodies of water occur frequently in millennial passages (Ps. 72:8; Isa. 11:9, 11; Ezek. 47:10, 15, 17–18, 20; 48:28; Zech. 9:10; 14:8). The tendency of some contemporary scholars to try to find fulfillment of the Millennium in the new heaven and the new earth ignores these important differences in description of the new earth as compared to the old earth. In the revelation to John of the new earth, new heaven, and New Jerusalem, it should be remembered that what John is seeing prophetically is what will happen in the future, not what was existing at the time he lived on earth. Accordingly, John was projected forward in the history of the world to the time following the end of the Millennium when this important change of scene will take place.
Some scholars also have been confused because the city is referred to as “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). Some have tried to spiritualize the New Jerusalem as if it were a company of people. As Revelation continues, however, it is quite clear that it is a literal city that is intended, and the reference to it being beautiful like a beautiful bride is only a way to refer to its beauty and its newness. The setting of the New Jerusalem in the new earth is God’s provision of a happy home for saints of all ages. Though not revealed in the Old Testament in any great length, Abram, who looked for God’s fulfillment in regard to the millennial kingdom, also looked for a heavenly city (Heb. 11:10–16; cf. 12:22–24).
In the New Jerusalem God will make His residence; in fact, the New Jerusalem will be His temple. John wrote, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). In making this statement, the revelation does not mean that we will start crying in heaven and then have our crying eased, but, rather, it will be foreign to the whole setting. It will be a time of rejoicing in the grace of God and the opportunity and privilege of worship and service for the Lord. The situation will be entirely a new order as John recorded, “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’ ” (v. 5).
In a further summary of the character of heaven and of the New Jerusalem, John wrote, “He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and He will be My son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death’ ” (vv. 6–8).
In referring to Himself as “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (v. 6), Christ is saying that He is the first and the last as the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet are mentioned, and this is further defined as the beginning and the end. Christ is the eternal One, and the truths He is talking about are truths that will last forever.
The wonder of salvation by grace and drinking of the spring of the water of life are part of the wonderful provision God has made for those who put their trust in Him. This refers to how abundant our new life in Christ is as indicated in the invitation of Isaiah 55:1 and that of Christ in John 4:10, 13–14. The promise that all things will be inherited by those who overcome by faith and that God will be his God and he will be God’s son is the illustration of the abundant grace that Christians have in Christ and how marvelous our inheritance is (cf. Matt. 5:5; 19:29; 25:34; 1 Cor. 6:9–10; Heb. 1:14; 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4; 3:9; 1 John 5:5).
Overcoming by faith is also mentioned as a ground of reward in Christ’s messages to the seven churches (Rev. 2–3) and is itemized as a hope and an expectation of Paul, “So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Cor. 3:21–23).
Those whose lives are characterized by disregard of God and disregard of His moral commandments will be excluded. This revelation does not mean that if at one time in their lives some people were engaged in these immoral acts that they cannot be saved, but, rather, it is if the quality of their life as a whole is characterized by these sins, their destiny will be the lake of fire. In Scripture as in common life sometimes people with a sordid background are saved, forgiven, justified, and bound for heaven. Those who do not respond to faith in Christ have to face the fact that their destiny is the second death, the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
The New Jerusalem
Revelation 21:9–27. Having surveyed the general character of the new earth and the New Jerusalem, John was then introduced to the Holy City, Jerusalem, mentioned in verse 2. Scholars who otherwise agree on interpretation of prophecy have raised the question as to whether this section, beginning in verse 9, is a recapitulation, taking them back to the millennial kingdom, or whether it is in chronological order here and a description of the new heaven and new earth and New Jerusalem as that which will follow the Millennium.
Though worthy scholars can be named on both sides of this argument, in view of the fact that all has been chronological from chapter 19:11 up to this point, it would seem most logical for the narration to continue chronologically, having introduced the New Jerusalem now to describe it in detail. Having introduced the subject in 21:2–8 which most expositors recognize as the eternal state, it would follow that verse 9 also is referring to the eternal state and not a millennial situation. As the details of the city unfold, it is clear that it is not a millennial situation for there is no room for such a large city as the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, to be placed on the Holy Land during the millennial kingdom. Scriptures instead describe the city in the Millennium in entirely different terms (Ezek. 40–48).
The revelation that is given in these closing verses of the Book of Revelation provide a vista for comprehending the beauty of the eternal situation in which Christians will find themselves when they are in the New Jerusalem and in the new earth.
One of the problems of interpretation is the question of how far nonliteral interpretation should figure in understanding this passage. As a general rule, the basis for interpretation is best understood as providing a literal view of what is revealed, but that the contents of what is seen may have spiritual meaning beyond the physical.
John wrote, “One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:9–10). The problem mentioned in verse 2 of how a city could also be a bride carries over to this description. Actually, the bride of Christ is composed of people, those who have accepted Christ in the present age and who form the church, the body of Christ. In showing John the Holy City, there is a relationship to the bride in that the beauty of the Holy City is similar to the beauty of the bride. Obviously, a literal meaning cannot be that it is both a city and a bride, and so one must complement the other.
John in his statement went on, “It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” (v. 11). Beginning with this verse, a number of precious jewels are mentioned as being characteristic of the New Jerusalem. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to ascertain exactly which jewel is in mind.
The city as a whole is like a precious jewel, like a jasper clear as crystal, according to John. In our present earth the jasper stone is not clear but opaque, indicating that while the jewel looks like a jasper, it actually could be some other jewel. The description which follows pictures Jerusalem as a gigantic jewel piece aglow with the glory of God and a beautiful setting for God’s grace to be made evident in the lives of those who have trusted Him.
John described the city, “It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west” (vv. 12–13). The city as described by John is a very impressive one even by present standards. Though some have said that the city is not a literal city and merely symbolizes the church, the body of Christ, it seems best to consider it a literal city which, nevertheless, in its elements represents the church in some of its qualities. The wall of the city is described as great and high which illustrates the fact that not everyone is qualified to enter into the blessings of the city. The number “twelve” is very prominent in the description of the city as seen in the twelve gates, the twelve angels, the twelve tribes of Israel (v. 12), the twelve foundations (v. 14), the twelve Apostles (v. 14), the twelve pearls (v. 21), and the twelve kinds of fruit (22:2). The city is also said to be 12,000 stadia in length and the wall to be 144 cubits in width, 144 being twelve times twelve. The fact that the twelve gates have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (21:12) makes clear that Israel will be part of the populace of this city.
In Ezekiel 48:31–34 the twelve gates of the millennial temple are mentioned: Reuben, Judah, and Levi, going west to east on the north side; going north to south on the east side, Joseph, Benjamin, and Dan; on the west side, moving from north to south, Naphtali, Asher, and Gad; and on the south side, proceeding from east to west, Simeon, Issachar, and Zebulun. Nothing is said here about the names of the twelve tribes on the particular gates. It may or may not be true that the same order is followed here as in the millennial temple.
John in his description of the city continued, “There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:13–14). Though the names of the twelve Apostles were not given, it is clear that just as the names of Israel on the gates of the city prove that Israel is in the New Jerusalem, so the names of the apostles on the twelve foundations prove that the church will be in the New Jerusalem. In fact, as all the facts are put together, the New Jerusalem will be the home of all the saints of all ages and the holy angels as well as God Himself.
The immensity of this city is brought out by John’s statement of the angel measuring the city, “The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it is wide. He measured the city with a rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and as high as it is long.” He measured its wall, and it was 144 cubits thick (or high) by man’s measurement, which the angel was using. The city, therefore, is a large city, larger than any city known today, and especially unusual in that it is as high as it is long. The 12,000 stadia translated into modern terms amount to about 1,400 miles. The city as such would be far too large to place on the millennial earth, but in the new earth there will be plenty of room.
In this city, as brought out, both Jew and Gentile will be inhabiting the city along with the saints of all other ages. Significant is the fact, however, that a Jew is not automatically recognized as belonging to the church and the church is not automatically related to Israel. The distinctions between the racial Jew and the church composed of both Jews and Gentiles is maintained in this revelation.
In Hebrews 12:22–24 the inhabitants of the city are itemized, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of a New Covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” In the New Jerusalem will be both angels and the church and all others who could be called righteous regardless of their dispensational background. In the city also will be God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
John described in detail the beautiful stones relating to the wall, “The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst” (Rev. 21:18–20).
These stones, having varied colors and glowing with the glory of God, present an amazingly beautiful spectacle for John as he gazed on the city. The jasper stone, mentioned first, is apparently like our present jasper stone but clear as crystal. Built on the jasper stone, which is the bottom layer of the foundation, was a brilliant sapphire in appearance like a diamond in color. The third foundation of chalcedony was an agate stone from Chalcedon, modern Turkey, and it is believed to have been sky blue with stripes of other colors. The fourth foundation, the emerald, introduces the familiar bright green color. The sardonyx is a red and white stone. The sixth foundation, carnelian, also identified as Sardius stone, was a stone usually found in a honey color. It is used with jasper in Revelation 4:3, describing the glory of God on the throne.
The seventh foundation is chrysolite which is thought to have been a gold color, and possibly different from the modern chrysolite stone which is pale green. The eighth foundation, the beryl, is a deep sea green. The ninth foundation, the topaz, is yellow green, and transparent. The tenth foundation, chrysoprase, introduces another green color. The eleventh foundation, jacinth, is violet in color. The twelfth foundation, the amethyst, is commonly a purple.
In seeing these many colors with the brilliant light of the glory of God in the New Jerusalem, John saw a scene of indescribable beauty worthy of the God who had created it. If Christians can be thrilled by the use of colors and the creations of men, how much greater will be the New Jerusalem which comes from the creative hand of God.
John also referred to the twelve gates, “The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl” (21:21). Obviously, these transcend any pearl such as we know in this life and are large stones, but beautiful like a pearl. The streets to the city are declared to be of pure gold like transparent glass (v. 21). It is possible that all the materials of this city are translucent, and the glory of God will go through them and light up the city in a blaze of color.
John next itemized things he did not see, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (v. 22). There apparently will be no sun or moon needed to bring light to the earth because the glory of God will lighten the New Jerusalem (v. 23). There will be no night either because the glory of God will illuminate the city continuously (v. 25). John stated, “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it” (v. 24).
The nations, referring to the Gentiles, will bring their glory and honor into the city to the glory of God (v. 26). Anything that is impure, however, or is shameful or deceitful is shut out of the city and not permitted to inhabit it, as John stated it, “but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (v. 27) will be allowed in the city. Though the description of John is graphic and presents a beautiful display of the glory of God, it is obvious that the real city which believers will see in the eternal state will far exceed the possibility of describing it in words.
The Final Revelation concerning the City and the Eternal State
Revelation 22:1–21. As John recorded the final chapter of the Book of Revelation featuring the major features of the life and circumstances of the saints in eternity, the judgment of the wicked is viewed as past and eternity stretches before the believer. It is a time of unqualified blessing. John recorded, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (v. 1). In keeping with the holiness and perfection of the eternal state, the water of life issued from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Scriptures mention other streams in the Millennium, and this revelation should not be confused with the river that flows from the millennial sanctuary (Ezek. 47:1, 12) nor with the record of the living waters going forth from Jerusalem (Zech. 14:8). The water of life speaks of the purity, the power, and the holiness of the eternal life in the heavenly city. Significant is the fact that the water proceeds from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Though the throne of Christ is different than the throne of David and the millennial throne on which He sat throughout the millennial kingdom, this indicates that Christ is still with God the Father reigning over the eternal state.
In addition to picturing the water of life, John also recorded the tree of life in the city. The water of life which John pictured in Revelation 22:1 also is said to flow “down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (v. 2).
This verse has confused expositors because it is hard to visualize how the same tree could be on both sides of the river which flows down the great street of the city. Several solutions are possible. The stream may be very narrow flowing down the street, and the tree of life may be very large in the sense that it is over the entire street. Some offer the opinion that the tree of life is a collective term and that there is more than one tree, and hence the tree of life would be on both sides of the street.
A number of problems confront the interpretation of this passage besides the attempt to reconstruct visually what is described. The tree of life here seems to be a reference to what is mentioned in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:22, 24) where it is stated that if Adam and Eve had eaten of the tree of life they would have lived forever in their fallen state. It was preferable that they go through death into a new order of a resurrection body and all that this entails.
Further, the statement is that the tree of life bears twelve crops of fruit which, apparently, are subject to being eaten. Most significant is the fact that “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2). The question is fairly asked why healing would be necessary in a situation where there is no sickness, no death, no sorrow, and no crime. The word for healing (Gr., therapeian) is in the English the word “therapeutic.” Accordingly, rather than healing, it could be understood as that which brings health. The leaves of the tree, then, would be described as bringing enjoyment of life in the New Jerusalem. Accordingly, as it may not be necessary to partake of the leaves of the tree in order to enjoy the eternal state forever, it apparently provides an avenue by which enjoyment can be enhanced. The healing is also said to extend to the nations (Gr., ethne), literally, the Gentiles or the peoples. Though frequently used to distinguish Gentiles from Israel, the word would include all races in a context such as this.
As if to answer the question of whether these verses imply imperfection in the eternal state, John stated, “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him” (v. 3). All that spoke of sin and its penalties is wiped away in heaven, and there is nothing left that is a reminder of sin. All are blessed, not cursed. In support of this conclusion, it is revealed that God’s throne and that of the Lamb will be in the city. The question is often raised: What will Christians do in heaven? The Scriptures are very simple in stating the fact, as this verse does, that “His servants will serve Him” (v. 3). In a situation where every child of God will be profoundly grateful for God’s grace in bringing them to this place where they can enjoy the blessings of eternal life, the love of the saints for God will show itself in an eager desire to serve God. Whatever the humble task or the important task assigned to an individual, it will bring great satisfaction to be able to do something for God who has done so much for him.
The intimacy of the servants of God with God is indicated in that the saints will be able to see the face of God, and His name will be on their foreheads. John wrote, “They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads” (v. 4). The identification with God is mentioned several times previously in the Book of Revelation (2:17; 3:12; 7:3; 14:1). Seeing the face of God is something that could not have been accomplished prior to the saints’ resurrection and glorification. The fact that they will be able to see the face of God demonstrates that they are perfectly holy by the grace of God.
Just as there will be wonderful experience of relationship and service to God, so they will enjoy the glory of God, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” (22:5). Darkness will be banished in the eternal state. The New Jerusalem made of translucent materials will be an amazing, beautiful sight as the light streams through all the various colors, not leaving any shadows. The sun and the moon will be no more because they are no longer needed, but the glory of God will be the light of the city (21:23). Their blessed state is that they will reign with Christ forever.
As a climax to this revelation, John recorded, “The angel said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show His servants the things that must soon take place’ ” (22:6).
An amazing record of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty is demonstrated in history and climaxing in the eternal state. God has put down evil and judged Satan and men. No longer will men rebel against God, but God will be sovereign in time and eternity. No trace of sin will taint the kingdom of God, but the holiness that is God’s own spiritual quality will be shared with the saints. Where there once was death, now there will be resurrection life; where there once was judgment and curse, there now is removal and redemption; where there once was darkness, now there is light; where there was once ugliness, now there is beauty. Joys replace sorrow; holiness, sin; and men, instead of serving themselves and Satan, will worship God, serve Christ, and be like Christ in spiritual quality.
Spiritually, there will be perfect restoration. In the conduct of government, there will be perfect administration. The servants shall be transformed into the likeness of God. They will clearly be identified with His name on their foreheads. No artificial means of light is necessary because God provides perfect illumination.
John was well aware, however, that the battle of the ages had not yet been consummated and John still lived in the wicked world where he was in exile on the Isle of Patmos. To him and to others caught still in the world’s sinful state, the angel said, “Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book” (v. 7). Though it is impossible to date the coming of Christ, the fact that the Rapture of the church is an imminent event which requires preparation in advance serves to alert believers that the events of the end time may be impending.
John was overwhelmed by the abundance of revelation given to him, and he recorded, “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!’ ” (vv. 8–9)
The angel also gave John a practical word as to how this truth should be used as John recorded, “Then he told me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy’ ” (vv. 10–11). In giving John these instructions, the angel is not indifferent to the need for moral change, but is stating that in view of the Lord’s imminent return, it will not be possible to correct things in earth prior to His coming. The angel as well as John struggles with the evil in the world, but he is not to be worshiped.
John then recorded that the announcement of Christ’s coming is repeated, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. I, Jesus, have sent My angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star” (vv. 12–16). In this final pronouncement by Jesus Himself, John was again reminded that Christ is coming like the morning star just before dawn, and when He comes it will be an abrupt event. It will be a time of judgment on the wicked and a time of reward for the saints. Christ again points out that He is Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and the First and Last in terms of time, and the Beginning and End in terms of creation (1:8, 11, 17; 2:8; 21:6).
John also recorded the final beatitude of seven in the Book of Revelation (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14). The statement, “Blessed are those who wash their robes” (v. 14), differs from the text used in the dW¸ where the phrase is translated, “that do His commandments.” Textual evidence seems to be in favor of the NIV translation, and it is preferable to base our hope of salvation on the fact that our robes have been washed and made clean rather than on our obedience to God. The important point is that believers are now justified to enter into the city because they have been rendered holy before God and therefore have a right to the tree of life.
In contrast to believers who will enjoy eternal life, unbelievers, who are described as “dogs,” will not be allowed to enter the city. The reference to “dogs” is not to the animal but rather to those of sinful character who do not qualify for the presence of God. Their lives have been characterized by immorality and living falsehood, and their lives have been untouched by the grace of God.
Once again, Jesus points out that He is the Son of David and the bright Morning Star. Though He fulfills all that was promised David, the Morning Star speaks of the bright promise of the future.
The reference to “the churches” is of significance because this is the first reference to the word “church” (Gr., ekklesia) since the message to the seven churches. The reason for this is that the church is not involved in the Great Tribulation.
The final message of the Book of Revelation is an invitation to partake of the water of life freely, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (v. 17).
Prophecy was written, on one hand, to warn the sinner of God’s judgment on him in the future with its appeal to come to God for the grace that He offers. By contrast also, prophecy describes for the saint the blessings that will be his in eternity because he serves God in time. Readers of the Book of Revelation who do not have the gift of eternal life are urged, accordingly, to accept the gift as God’s free offer to be born again by faith in Christ and to be qualified to participate in what God has planned for those who love Him.
A final word of warning was recorded by John, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this book” (vv. 18–19).
It obviously is a tremendous sin to tamper with the Word of God, to discard it as unworthy, or to live without taking heed to it. The Bible in a number of passages warns against tampering with the Word of God (Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 1:3). Because the Book is inspired of God, one can neither add nor subtract from that which is revealed. In the light of current neglect of the Book of Revelation in the church today, it points to a serious fault in failing to take into consideration the picture that is painted of end times.
As a final word from Christ, John recorded, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon’ ” (22:20). The concept of Christ’s coming soon has to be interpreted as a warning that He could come at any time but that when He comes it will be sudden. The time for preparation for the coming of the Lord is the period preceding His coming. John added the prayer, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (v. 20). John closed this tremendous revelation with the simple statement, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (v. 21).
The Book of Revelation, placed last in the Scriptures, introduced the broad theme of the Revelation of Jesus Christ in the opening verses. Subsequently, the major events that followed revealed the power, the righteousness, the sovereignty of Christ and also His marvelous grace for those who come to Him in faith. The Bible does not present in any other book quite as stark a picture of the awfulness of sin, the certainty of divine judgment, and, by contrast, the wonder of being a child of God who is promised eternal blessing in the presence of the Saviour. In a sense, all the prophetic revelation, from Genesis up to the Book of Revelation, finds its summation and its climax in the Book of Revelation. Those who read the Book of Revelation today and are captured by its graphic revelation should sense the fact that while these events have not yet been fulfilled, they could be very quickly, and the time for preparation for end-time events is now.
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.