“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John,saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, 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. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’” Revelation 21:1-5
Revelation 21 is widely embraced as the fulfillment of the glorious future for the Church. It is understood to be the hope of every saint, both living and deceased. A time when human history as we know it will be changed and the earth as we know it will cease to exist. God will recreate the heavens and the earth and the saints of God will be given new, glorious bodies. There will be a literal, physical NEW city of Jerusalem which shall descend from the heavens upon the earth. This Jerusalem will be the new dwelling place and headquarters for all believers throughout eternity.
Although this teaching is widely embraced, is it the most accurate depiction of our future as the Church? Was John’s Revelation meant to be taken literally or even physically? How are we to understand the nature of the New Jerusalem? Is this still a future reality or could it be a very present reality? In this article, I will demonstrate through scripture how and why the New Jerusalem is a NOW reality!
I do not believe that the New Jerusalem is a future, physical city. It is plainly seen throughout the bible as a New Covenant reality and not a New World, physically attained city. As believers and students of the Word of God we must begin to study out what we claim to believe with the understanding of why we believe what we believe. One of the first questions that need to be addressed when dealing with this issue is, “How many Jerusalems do the scriptures speak of?” This is important in order to bring context to the Word of God. In the NT, four different Jerusalems are mentioned. The most obvious Jerusalem mentioned is First Century Jerusalem. This is PHYSICAL Jerusalem. All of the Gospels were written to the Jews dwelling in this land. Jesus’ earthly ministry was primarily to those dwelling in First Century Jerusalem.
“These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: ‘Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matthew 10:5-7
Jerusalem was the city of the Israelites. It was the Old Covenant capital of God’s people. Not only was Jesus’ ministry to earthly Jerusalem, but the disciples were first commissioned to minister within the boundaries of Jerusalem before spreading the the Gospel to the Gentiles.
The other three Jerusalems spoken of in the NT are the “Jerusalem above”, “heavenly Jerusalem”, and “New Jerusalem”.
“but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” Galatians 4:26
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,” Hebrews 12:22
“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Revelation 21:2
There is much emphasis on the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21, but very little emphasis on the other two discourses where this spiritual Jerusalem is spoken of. If there was more emphasis on the Jerusalems of Hebrews 12 and Galatians 4, I believe it would bring more clarity to John’s intentions while writing Revelation. These three spiritual Jerusalems are not three separate, distinct Jerusalems but rather the same Jerusalem spoken of in three different ways. This spiritual Jerusalem is a New Covenant reality and not a future reality as many would believe. Let’s look at the scriptures in context for clarity.
“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: ‘Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.’ Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’ So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.” Galatians 4:21-31
It is clearly stated here that Hagar represented the Old Covenant, while Sarah represented the New Covenant. In like manner, these two Covenants are represented by two Jerusalems. The Old Covenant, Hagar was represented by natural Jerusalem or the “Jerusalem which now is”. This was earthly Jerusalem. It represented the land of the Jews. It represented the Law and those who were held under the bondage of the Law. The New Covenant, Sarah was represented by “Jerusalem above”. This is the land of the free and the “mother of us all”. The spiritual Jerusalem is the mother of those who are in Christ and are not under the bondage of the Law. This is not a future reality, but a Covenantal reality. This Jerusalem above is accessed through the experience of being born again!
Even John emphasized this fact in his Gospel.
“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” John 3:1-6
What is interesting about this account in John is the original Koine Greek interpretation. The NKJV translates this as, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” but the Greek transliteration for “born again” is “anóthen“. This is translated as from above, from heaven, again, anew. Anóthen is derived from the Greek, anó. Anó is the word used in Galatians 4 for “above”, as in Jerusalem above. It is translated as up, above, things above, heaven, heavenly region. In other words, when someone is born again what they are really experiencing is being born from above. That which is born of Spirit is spirit. So, it is the spirit of a man that is born again. This is a spiritual reality and experience. It has nothing to do with our earthly body or our intellect. We are triune beings. We are made of body, soul, and spirit. It is our spirit that is born from above. In like manner, we are born to a spiritual land. Philippians 3:20 states that our citizenship is in heaven. In other words, we are children of the new Jerusalem. When you are born from above you are born into a city which is from above. This city is the New Jerusalem. It is the Jerusalem above. This is the New Covenant city. This city is the Church, the Bride, The Lamb’s Wife! Christ is married to the New Jerusalem. He is married to you and I.
“For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest,and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: ‘And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.’ And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.’) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” Hebrews 12:18-24
Here the writer of Hebrews does the same thing Paul did in Galatians 4. But, instead of using Hagar and Sarah as our Covenantal examples he uses Moses and Mount Sinai as our Old Covenant example and Mount Zion as our New Covenant example. It is still clearly seen that the context of the New Jerusalem is the reality of the New Covenant and not a future, physical city. The writer of Hebrews further emphasizes this by his words, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” There is emphasis on the past and present arrival to the heavenly Jerusalem. We have already come to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant and to the Church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven. This is our inheritance as New Covenant believers.
Finally, I will deal with the argument of Revelation 21. Futurists will make the claim that the New Jerusalem is yet future because its arrival is indicated in the last two chapters of Revelation. They will also stand on John’s indication of “Now I saw” as the first three words of Revelation 21 as if it is yet future. However, what is often neglected is the previous account spoken about the New Jerusalem in Revelation 3.
Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.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. And I will write on him My new name.” Revelation 3:11-12
Both Revelation 21 and Revelation 3 indicate that the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven. At first glance, it appears as if this is a future event, however when the Greek interpretation is investigated a much deeper and specific explanation is given. I want to emphasize the Greek word translated as “comes down”. This Greek word is transliterated as “katabainousa”. Although it is translated correctly, it is important to note that this word is written as a present active participle. What this means is that when John wrote that the New Jerusalem “comes down” he did not intend on the readers to interpret this as a one time event. For readers to translate this as “the New Jerusalem came down from heaven or is going to come down from heaven” is to take away from the text. Present active participles express ongoing activity. An ending point cannot be indicated. It will go on and on indefinitely, or be repeated continuously. In other words, the New Jerusalem will continue to come down. Much like how God will continue to pour out of His Spirit according to Acts 2:17. God did not pour out of His Spirit one time in the last days. He continued to pour out of His Spirit and will continue to pour out of His Spirit. As long as people are being born again, or born from above the heavenly Jerusalem will continue to come down. People will continue to experience the benefits of this heavenly city. This New Jerusalem has become the NOW JERUSALEM of the New Covenant people of God.