“So he took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal. The city wall was broad and high, with twelve gates guarded by twelve angels. And the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were written on the gates. There were three gates on each side—east, north, south, and west. The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
Revelation 21:10-14 NLT
The old Apostle John must have sensed that he was nearing the end of his Revelation, because the final act seems to be rolling out before him. Jerusalem was a city much revered by the Jews. It was, and still is, a focal point, a place that the Jews attached a religious and national significance to. Over history, it housed magnificent temples, built as a home and place of worship for God. Jesus Himself connected Jerusalem with His mission and, ultimately, His death. He wept over its stubbornness (Luke 19:41) and its impending demise to come at the hands of the Romans just a few years later. Jeremiah prophesied about Jerusalem. We read in Jeremiah 3:17, “In that day Jerusalem will be known as ‘The Throne of the Lord.’ All nations will come there to honour the Lord. They will no longer stubbornly follow their own evil desires”. The modern Jerusalem is a troubled place, tense with religious and racial differences, and the place most revered, the Temple Mount, houses a Muslim mosque. The reverence of Jerusalem didn’t die away with Jesus, and a thread continues through the New Testament, ending with a crescendo of praise as the New Jerusalem appears.
Of course, by this time in John’s vision the earth had disappeared, so the old Jerusalem would have disappeared with it. But the Jews always believed that Jerusalem would be God’s eternal home. Little did they realise that the New Jerusalem would be created by God Himself. No more man-made structures.
The New Jerusalem was designed and built by God in Heaven. And John’s description ran out of adjectives comprehensive enough to fully describe it, as he watched it slowly coming down from Heaven to the new earth. His first impression was that it shone with the glory of God, sparkling in the same way as light does when seen reflecting from, or refracting through, a precious stone. John’s first impression was that the walls were “broad and high”and he could see twelve gates, each of which had a name above it. He saw that “the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were written on the gates”. This is significant, because God’s chosen people, the Jews, were not forgotten. But we shouldn’t be surprised by that. Scriptures such as Psalm 23:6 made it clear that God would be with His people forever. “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” The Jews, along with the children of the New Covenant, would be found in the Holy City. All redeemed peoples, regardless of their race or nationality, will be living in the New Jerusalem.
John also saw features of note, underpinning the walls. They were, “twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb”. So we have the importance of the foundational Apostolic teaching, from the men who had been disciples with Jesus, recognised forever. John saw the merging of the Old and New covenants in a glorious expression of God’s created new city.
Are we pilgrims looking forward to living in the New Jerusalem? How can we not be? A place shining with God’s glory. A place founded on the principles we have been trying to live by during our Christian lives. We have already read that there will not be any more sin there. Or death or sickness. Our future lives with God are going to be nothing like we can ever imagine. And in the new Jerusalem we will find all the heroes of the faith. Imagine being able to ask Peter what it was like to walk on the Sea of Galilee? Or find out what Paul was really like. There are many biblical and other characters I’m sure we would love to meet. And we’ll have eternity to find out all about them. But will we find everyone we expect in Heaven” Martin Luther summed it all up in this quote, attributed to him, “First, there will be people in heaven I did not expect to be there. Second, there will be people not present in heaven that I was certain would be there. Third is the greatest surprise of all – that I will be there myself!”
Dear Lord. We thank You that through Your sacrifice at Calvary we are assured of a place in Heaven. We thank You that You are reserving a room for each one of us in the New Jerusalem. We praise You today. Amen.