Study On The Book Of Revelation – If you would like to comment on one of the lessons simply click on the title of the lesson and you will be take to the lesson page where you will find a comment section at the bottom.
*The material for these studies is from Jon Courson’s Commentary by Thomas Nelson Inc., R. Kent Hughes Preaching the Word series by Crossway, and Warren W. Wiersbe’s Commentary by Chariot Victor Publishing, and from James Montgomery Boice’s Expositional Commentary published by Baker Books, and from The Message of Romans, John R. W. Stott published by Inter Varsity Press, unless otherwise noted.
The prologue in Revelation 1:1-3 stressed that John was writing a revelation from God, sent by an angel as a testimony from Jesus Christ concerning things that were soon to come. John wrote: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3). Now at the end of his remarkable book, John provides nearly the identical exhortation: “These words are trustworthy and true…Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:6-7). John’s concluding interest concerns the book’s authenticity as a revelation from God and the urgent response merited by its message.
Included with these emphases is an implied challenge to us that comes not from John but from Jesus Christ: “How are you going to respond to reading this message?” All the information we need has now been provided; no further visions are needed for us to know what to do. The question now is whether we will do it! Will John’s readers commit themselves to worship and serve only Jesus Christ, living faithfully as His people, relying on His sovereign rule over history to ensure our salvation, and rejoicing now to give our testimony to God’s saving grace through the blood of Christ the Lamb?
In order to respond properly to the staggering message of Revelation, we must first be persuaded of its truth. The angel thus said to John, “These words are trustworthy and true” (v. 6). By recording this testimony John assured us that we may rely on Revelation’s visions to accurately depict our present age as well as its ending. We may safely obey the exhortations that accompany the books visions. If we commit ourselves to the faith and life urged by Revelation, we will experience the blessings promised with them.
When John claims that God’s Word is “trustworthy and true,” he is echoing the uniform teaching of the Bible about itself. According to the Bible, the Scriptures may be trusted completely because they are the Word of God. You see this view in Paul’s writing. In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul criticizes his opponents for not understanding God’s plan and purposes. Speaking of his own teaching, he adds, “These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:10). Second Timothy 3:16 states: “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” It is on this basis that what John says of Revelation is true of the entire Bible: “These words are trustworthy and true” (v. 6).
As the angel continues in verse 6, he describes God as “the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets.” By referring to the “spirits” of the prophets in the plural, John speaks of the inward faculties of the various men who wrote the Bible books. The Bible was written by men in a wide variety of situations, and their spirits were fully engaged in writing their histories, poems, and prophecies. Yet God was ruling over this entire process: the Lord is “the God of the spirits of the prophets.” The angel’s statement accords with the classic definition of the inspiration of Scripture, which states that the Bible’s human authors wrote under God’s control.
John offers a final attestation to the truth of Revelation by noting that it was recorded by an eyewitness of the visions who also was an authorized apostle of Jesus Christ. Verse 8 states: “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things.” The apostles were Christ’s authorized servants in recording the New Testament. What Paul said about his message is equally true of John’s teaching: “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:12). For this reason, the teaching of the apostles is to be “accepted…not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13). In this capacity, John assures us that the visions he has seen and heard are “trustworthy and true” (v. 6).
While believers await the appearing of Christ, John gives clear instructions in Revelation’s sixth beatitude: “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (v. 7). To “keep” God’s Word is to receive it in faith, hold fast to it in hope, and obey it in action. Verse 7 informs us how to receive the entirety of God’s Word. We are to keep its words and its prophecy. Receiving the words of the Bible means that we are to study it carefully, believing and putting into practice everything that it says. Christians believe not only the general message of the Bible but its actual words, since they are spoken to us by God. We therefore take seriously whatever the test of Scripture says. Jesus asserted, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35).
The angel especially emphasizes keeping “the prophecy of this book” (v. 7). This means that the history revealed in Revelation – some of it present and some future – becomes the truth by which we live. We are to resist evil, knowing that it is soon to be judged and that Christ will not allow His people to be defeated. Knowing the certainty of our victory in Christ, we are to do the will of God and bear testimony to Christ’s blood.
The angel had reminded John the truth of these visions, and then, in verse 7, Jesus either interrupts to say that He is coming soon or says this to John through the angel. In response John is so overwhelmed that he loses his bearings: “I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me” (v. 8). We see in John that when we receive God’s Word as truth and keep its visions of glory, we will be cast down in an attitude of worship.
In responding to John’s action, the angel instructs us in the vitally important matter of worship. Angels are worship specialists, so we should listen carefully when they teach us about this topic. Here, the angel responds in outraged horror: “You must not do that!” (v. 9). We should not think that this interplay between John and the angel is disconnected from the exhortation to keep the message of Revelation. John is being shown, and we with him, that the first and single most important element in keeping God’s Word is to give God alone the glory that He is due. The angel reacts out of a consuming passion for the exclusive glory of God, and this same passion must be seen in the hearts of all those who keep the words of God’s Book.
We should consider the angel’s reaction not only negatively but also in three essential and positive statements that he makes to John. First, he tells us that the worship of God is a command and duty for all His servants in Jesus Christ (v. 9). The call to “worship” is in the form of an imperative, which means that it is a command. We do not worship God merely when we think it would be pleasing to do so, or would otherwise serve our interests, but we are to devote ourselves fully and constantly to the praise of God.
Second, note that “worship” in verse 9 has a direct object. Worship always has an object. The problem with many churches today is that the object or recipient of worship is man. But the angel insists that only God is the true object and consumer of worship. “Worship God!” he says. This means that we come to church not primarily seeking what we will get out of worship but what God will get out of worship. The best way to achieve this is to worship according to God’s Word. Through worship that follows the example of Scripture and fervently proclaim God’s Word we fulfill the command of Hebrews 12:28, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”
Third, the angel tells us that it is in true worship directed to God that we most thoroughly realize our high identity and privilege as God’s people. The angel tells John, “I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book” (v. 9). What an incredible dignity the angel conveys upon John if he worships God as he should. In worshiping God, he becomes a fellow servant with glorious, unfallen angels in the splendor of their holiness. This is also the true dignity of every Christian man and woman, when the worship of God through Jesus Christ we are elevated into the fraternity and brotherhood of angels!
In light of this instruction, we must not think we have kept the words of the prophecy of the book of Revelation until we have imbibed the passion for the glory of God that we see in this angel. This is our true calling, and it is the purpose of Revelation that even in this present evil age we would enter into it: that we would possess and overwhelming concern for the glory of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Moreover, we must not think we have suitably given testimony before the world to the gospel message of this book until the world has seen in our lives the consuming passion for the glory of God that Revelation is intended to inspire.
Revelation 22:6-9 Study Questions:
Will you commit yourself to worship and serve only Jesus Christ, living faithfully as His people, relying on His sovereign rule over history to ensure your salvation, and rejoicing now to give your testimony to God’s saving grace through the blood of Christ the Lamb?
Previously, John has looked on the eternal city and, on the people living there. Now he concludes with the sources of life that bless the garden-city, the New Jerusalem: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (v. 1).
There are many biblical antecedents to this vision, but two stand out. The first was the river that “flowed out of Eden to water the garden” in Genesis 2:10. The second was the river that “was issuing from below the threshold of the temple” in Ezekiel’s vision of God’s end-times temple (Ezek. 47:1). We see the first river flowed “out of Eden” and Ezekiel’s river flowed from the eastern temple door, the river of the New Jerusalem flows “from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (v. 1). The clear point is that the sovereign reign of God in history is the source of the life and refreshment that flows to His people in eternity. Since it is the throne not only “of God” but also “of the Lamb,” we see that grace flows from the sovereign will of the Father by means of the saving death of His Son.
John provides details regarding this river of life. He says that its water is “bright as crystal,” depicting the purity of life that God gives and the cleansing effect of the grace that we receive by faith. John adds that the river flows “through the middle of the street of the city” (v. 2). Earlier, we saw a street of “pure gold, transparent as glass” (21:21). Apparently, the river flows either atop or beside the main thoroughfare, showing that divine life streams in the heart of the eternal dwelling place of God’s people. Here is fulfilled the promise of Revelation 7:17: “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water.”
Ezekiel’s temple vision showed the stream beginning at the temple doors as a trickle, then growing finally so deep that it could not be crossed (Ezek. 47:1-12). This depicted the increasing power of God’s grace as it advanced in redemptive history. As it flowed to the east, Ezekiel saw brackish water becoming fresh, trees lining its banks, and fish swarming with life. Ezekiel said that on its banks “there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fruit every month… Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing” (Ezek. 47:12). John picks up this language to show that Ezekiel was foreseeing not a future physical blessing for the physical land of Israel but rather the vitality of life that God has in store for His people in the New Jerusalem.
The Genesis account of the garden highlighted not only the river flowing out of Eden, but also the “tree of life…in the midst of the garden” (Gen. 2:9), which conveyed eternal life to those who eat from it (Gen 3:22). Now John sees this Tree of Life growing on both sides of the river. Most scholars think that this image depicts not a single great tree but a grove of trees that give life, lining the banks of the river.
Ezekiel saw trees whose “fruit will be for food,” and John notes their fulfillment in the New Jerusalem: “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month” (v. 2). The fact that “twelve kinds of fruit” are yielded “each month” indicates both the variety of blessings and their perpetual availability. There is an abundant provision of spiritual life and grace to meet every imaginable need.
Verses 1-2 shows the ultimate accomplishment of salvation by the sovereign will of the Father and the atoning death of the Son, culminating in the outflowing provision of eternal life. Verses 3-5 depict the eternal application of redemption for those who come to Christ in faith. For them, the curse of sin will give way to the blessing of grace, eternity will be spent basking in the knowledge and service of God, and those joined to Christ will reign with Him forever and ever.
When Adam and Eve first sinned against God, they fell under the curse of His just wrath. As a result, they were cast out of the garden and barred from the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22-24). No longer would they enjoy personal fellowship with God and serve as His people. When John says, “No longer will there be anything accursed” (v. 3), he declares that the entry of sin has been remedied and reversed. Now believers will enjoy the bounty of God’s grace, which is richer in Christ than the joys of the original garden. We live now in the age when sin has not yet been removed. But by confessing our sins and bringing them to the cross for forgiveness, we escape the curse of sin and enter into the life of the children of God. The penalty paid by Jesus has restored us to God, and one day soon its effects will be cosmically removed for life in the New Jerusalem.
The chief result of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin was their alienation from the presence of God. The chief blessing of the eternal glory is, correspondingly, the return of God’s presence to His redeemed people. John thus writes that “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it” (v. 3). God’s throne dominates the visions of Revelation. At first, John was permitted to peer into heaven to see the vision of God’s throne (4:2). Now, at the end of the story, he sees “the throne of God and of the Lamb” in the very midst of His people.
This statement shows that redemption is a restoration to the presence and blessing of God, as well as to God’s kingly rule. The calling for God’s throne to reign in your life through obedience to His Word is a sign of your return to His favor. It is those under a curse who are left to wander in the blasted lands east of Eden, free to govern their own lives in folly and sin. Those who are placed under the authority of God’s Word are those no longer cursed by sin but blessed by grace. Just as the curse of sin was removed by God’s sovereign will and the Lamb’s atoning work, His blessing is sustained by the enthroned presence of God in His truth and grace.
Not only will we enter into blessing of God, but we will spend eternity growing in our knowledge of Him. John writes: “They will see his face” (v. 4). In this life, you will probably never meet a famous general, a head of state, or even a popular movie star. But if you belong to Christ through faith, you will see God’s face. Indeed, the mark of a mature believer is an increasing desire to see God’s glory in heaven and to be closer to Him now.
In addition to seeing God’s face, believers will have “his name” written “on their foreheads” (v. 4). Whereas the mark of the beast signified loyalty to the tyrannical Antichrist, here the mark of God signifies the loyalty of those who belong to Him. In as earlier vision, the sealing of God’s name on His people indicated His care for their souls (7:3), in contrast to the unbelieving world marked with the sign of the beast. Moreover, the name of God stands for His character, which is reflected in the holiness of the glorified saints. God’s mark indicates His ownership, His covenant union, and His acceptance of all who bear His name in eternity. None who bear His name will ever be forgotten or lost.
John repeats in verse 5 his earlier statement that “night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light.” Everything belonging to the old order will have gone, including both nighttime with its dangers and temptations and the celestial light needed for daytime. In the New Jerusalem, God’s presence will always be their light. John concludes: “And they will reign forever and ever” (v. 5). Thus, at the end is fulfilled God’s first calling for His people. God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion” (Gen. 1:26). Sin made slaves, but God intends by grace to make us kings.
Through union with Christ in faith, you are destined to reign with Him in the land of glory. Of the one who conquers, he said, “I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21). This being true, why should sin reign over you now (Rom. 6:12)? Why should you succumb to anxiety, even in the midst of great trials, when God has sent His Son to die for your sins and has promised that you will reign with Him forever? Remembering that John wrote the book of Revelation to churches facing terrible persecution for their faith and testimony to Christ, why should you fear to speak boldly the truths of God’s Word, and especially the gospel offer of salvation?
There is a crown for you, together with a portion of the glory of Christ for you to display in this world. If you come to Jesus for salvation and yield yourself to His reign in this life, then the final words of John’s vision will come true for you: the Lord God will be your light, and you will reign forever and ever.
Revelation 22:1-5 Study Questions:
According to John, what is the purpose of the leaves on the tree (v. 2)?
From the start of the book, we were told that the Lamb’s followers were to be a royal priesthood, and now we see what this means. It is from the city, the city which is the bride, the bride which is the Lamb’s followers, that healing, restorative stewardship is to flow. This is how the creator God will show, once and for all, that His creation was good, and that He Himself is full of mercy. How might we begin to participate in this healing, redeeming work today?
In a book filled with important visions, the final vision depicts the new heaven and the new earth in the form of a temple-city. The book of Revelation was written to provide hope to suffering Christians in the church age and its persecutions. The final and greatest hope for every believer is the eternal glory awaiting us in Christ. A courageous faith will cultivate this hope by knowing the precious blessings awaiting us, anticipating glories that are beyond our present capacity by meditating on them as they are symbolized in Scripture.
The opening sections of this final vision identify the coming city as the glorified church of the Old and New Testaments (vv. 12-14). The city’s shape compares it to the holy of holies inside the tabernacle and temple, a perfect cube that marks the entire city as the inner sanctum of God’s dwelling. The precious gems and pure gold that adorn the city show the preciousness of His people to God and their radiance in reflecting His surpassing glory (vv. 18-21).
Starting in Revelation 21:22, John looks inside to observe life in the eternal city. He makes three statements, each of which is in negative terms: The first of these negative statements notes the absence of a physical sanctuary: “I saw no temple in the city” (v. 22). All ancient cities had a temple or many temples. Here we see there is no temple in the city of God. Temples existed as places where one went to meet with God. The New Jerusalem will need no such place, since “Its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” In the eternal city, God will fill the dwelling of His people so that He is met and known everywhere. It was god’s presence that made the old, physical temple sacred. In the end, God will have so reclaimed the entirety of creation that His glory will equally and fully pervade every square inch and light-year.
Notice that the temple in the eternal city is “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (v. 22). This statement makes clear the equality between Jesus and God; together with “God the Almighty,” Jesus, “the Lamb,” is the temple of His people. Not only do believers gain entry into the eternal glory through faith in Christ’s death for our sins, but He reigns there as our Divine King and Mediator forever. From the moment a sinner puts his or her trust in Jesus and is forgiven of sins, there will never be a single second in all eternity when Christ’s atoning mediation will not ensure our righteous standing before God and God’s covenant favor toward us.
Second, not only is the New Jerusalem a city without a temple, but it also lacks physical lights (v. 23). We are reminded here of the creation story in Genesis 1:14-16. Secularists today insist that light cannot exist without the sun, moon, and stars, but the Bible declares that God is the source of light. Therefore, when His presence fills the eternal city, there is no further need for celestial lights. John’s point is not about the astronomical situation in the renewed universe but to affirm the unsurpassed splendor which radiates from the presence of God and the Lamb.
Here again, the light belongs equally to the Father and the Son: “the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (v. 23). While they are coequal as God, the Son delights to display in His person and works the glory of the Father, as a lamp that reflects a light. When we consider the beauty of natural light, we can only imagine the surpassing glory of the light of God revealed by the lamp of Christ. Since John identifies Jesus as “the Lamb,” we may be sure that God’s end-times revelation of glory will highlight the love that gave His Son so that believers might be forgiven of our sins.
Looking by the light of God into the city, John sees a teeming metropolis of activity. People from over the whole of the globe are gathered for worship and holy commerce: “By its light will the nations walk” (v. 24). The nations will walk by His light, having first seen that light by the countless bold Christians in their witness of the gospel of Jesus. Ancient cities closed their gates at night for security reasons, but in this city there is no need. John notes that “its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there” (v. 25). The imagery speaks of peace and blessing in the city on which God’s glory shines.
John’s third statement regarding the New Jerusalem describes it as a city with no sin: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (v. 27). By “unclean” things, John means unregenerate people whose natures remain corrupted by sin. By “what is detestable,” John refers to the perverse evils condemned throughout the Bible as reprehensible to God. These sins are specified in the final chapter: “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters” (Rev. 22:15).
In a society as immoral as ours, it is essential that Christians speak the truth about God’s hatred of sins such as adultery and homosexuality, together with the idolatry of greed and thievery. Recent examples show a gross intolerance toward biblical teaching about God’s judgment on these sins, especially when it comes to deviant sexual lifestyles. Christians must nonetheless speak the truth boldly about God’s condemnation of homosexuality, adultery, and other perversions, just as we must speak graciously about forgiveness for all sins that is available in Jesus Christ. The fact that concludes with those who are “false” may indicate God’s special disgust for those who not only practice gross immorality but deny God’s judgment in encouraging others to join in their sin.
Contrasted to the ungodly are those whose names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life” (v. 27), who alone will enter God’s glory. The Book of Life is God’s eternal record of those elected by sovereign grace and called to salvation through faith in the blood of Christ. Whereas divine judgment is by just demerit, salvation is through the mercy of Christ for sinners, received by faith alone.
We are not permitted to look into God’s Book of Life before the final judgment, but we can identify the distinguishing character of those whose names are there. First, they are true penitents. Those destined for the New Jerusalem have felt the condemnation of their sins, have grieved before God for their guilt, and have hated the presence of sin in their lives. Second, they are all believers in Christ Jesus. Those who dwell in the eternal glory are those who trust in the saving work of Christ, especially His atoning work as the Lamb of God who died for their sins. They found salvation nowhere else, but believed in Jesus, received His offered mercy, and continued in faith throughout their lives despite all manner of persecution.
Third, those whose names are written in God’s Book of Life are all born of the Spirit and sanctified. This means that they began in this life, however imperfectly, the holy life they will enjoy perfectly in the age to come. They have been inwardly renewed by the Holy Spirit with a nature that inclines after God. This is how you know that you are destined to enjoy eternity in the glory of God’s presence: not church membership alone, not fleeting spiritual experiences, not money given to the church or good deeds that you think will overcome your sins, but a penitent heart that embraces the Lamb of God in faith and seeks thenceforth to live for the glory and honor of God.
Realizing that the ungodly will never enter God’s holy, eternal city, we should not only warn sinners to repent and believe in Jesus, but first make sure that we ourselves come to Him to be forgiven and cleansed from sin. Have you come to Jesus to deal with your sin and be justified before God? Until you admit your guilt, come to Jesus for forgiveness, and believe His gospel for salvation, there is no more important resolution for you to make. If you do not, you will be barred from God’s eternal city as a rebel and cast into hell for your sin.
The day of judgment has not yet come, and the current age has yet to give way to the eternal glory. How urgent, then, is your need to embrace the opportunity to believe on Jesus Christ and be saved! John urges you to seek the only way of entry into the glorious city to come, through the Lamb of God who takes away our sins: “Blessed are those who wash their robes,…that they may enter the city by the gates” (Rev. 22:14).
Revelation 21:22-27 Study Questions:
Why are the temple, the sun and the moon absent from the New Jerusalem (vv. 22-23)?
In what way did the ancient temple in Jerusalem serve as a signpost to something greater?
How will the nations participate in the life of the New Jerusalem (vv. 24-26)?
Why are the gates of the city never shut (v. 25)?
That which ruins the beauty and holiness of God’s new city is ruled out by definition> What is specifically mentioned here (v. 27)?
When the apostle John spiritually visited the eschatological mountain of Scripture, he joined an elite fraternity. The first man to stand on the mountain of God was Moses, after redeeming God’s people from Egypt. There, Moses dwelt in the presence of God’s glory, received the Ten Commandments, and was also shown the pattern of God’s tabernacle (Ex. 25:40). Centuries later, the prophet Ezekiel was taken to the high mountain of God where an angel holding a measuring reed showed him the dimensions of a new temple for God (Ezek. 40:1-3). Now John ascends the theological apex of the earth to see the Bible’s final vision of the city of God.
Following Ezekiel’s experience, he writes: “The one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls” (v. 15). The angel’s golden rod, a fitting tool for the service of God, not only reveals the city’s dimensions but marks out the realm where God has pledged His sovereign protection (see 11:1-2). John was shown not physical geography but spiritual realities pertaining to the final home of God’s people. John writes that this vision employs “human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement” (v. 17). This means that the physical dimensions have a symbolic meaning regarding the heavenly glory of the city awaiting believers in Christ.
The vision of the eternal city shown to John runs from 21:9 to 22:5. 21:15-17 provides the shape and measurements of the city, which convey truths regarding its character. First, we consider the shape: “The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width” (v. 21:16). This description reflects the model of the tabernacle given to Moses, which had God’s abode constructed in rectangles and squares. As a “foursquare” city, the eternal Jerusalem reflects perfect balance, harmony, and proportion. Many ancient writers used the expression foursquare to speak of integrity, completion, or perfection, and these qualities belong to the holy new Jerusalem.
The New Jerusalem is constructed not only as a square but as a cube: “Its length and width and height are equal” (v. 21:16). Even more than the square, the cube speaks of perfect completion. In the tabernacle that Moses made, as with the temple of Solomon, there was only one cubical space: the holy of holies where God’s presence dwelt (1 kings 6:20). In the original tabernacle, the inner sanctum occupied only a small space at the center of Israel’s camp and only one person could enter it, the high priest, only one day per year. But now all the people of God live in the inner sanctum to behold His glory all the time, since the entire city is the holy of holies.
In addition to the “foursquare” and cubical shape of the city, the angel gives its measurement: “And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia” (v. 21:16). The first thing we notice is the staggering immensity of this city. Taking a stadios as 200 yards, 12,000 stadia equal approximately 1500 miles. A city this size would occupy the entire Mediterranean world from Jerusalem to Spain. It is obvious that this city is designed to house a vast number of people beyond human reckoning, especially when we remember that as a cube it is a high-rise tower that soars above any manmade construction to a celestial height.
Not only is the great size of the measurements significant, but the numbers themselves are highly symbolic. Each length of the city is 12,000 stadia, with twelve representing both the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of the New Testament. This number is therefore intended to symbolize that this city not only houses the people of God but is the people of God. A cube has twelve edges; the sum of this city is 12,0000 times 12, or 144,000. This is the very number used earlier for the assembled entirety of God’s elect” twelve times twelve for the Old and New Testaments, multiplied by a thousand, which speaks of completion and fulfillment.
The emphasis on the number of God’s people is extended to the measurement of the walls: “He also measured its wall, 144 cubits (v. 21:17). The symbolic meaning of 144 cubits is that the wall encompasses the entirety of God’s elect from all times. In this holy and eternal city, all of God’s covenant purposes and the promises of the Bible are fulfilled: the entire vast number of God’s redeemed people will live in the glory of His immediate presence so as to experience the perfection of life as God designed it in eternity past.
In addition to the city’s dimensions, we are also told of the precious materials in its construction (vv. 21:18-21). The point of these descriptions is that the glorified church reflects the glory and beauty of the holy God. The splendor of even the purest gold is inadequate to describe God’s majesty, so here the gold is like a crystal that radiates with God’s glory.
The impression of God’s radiant glory is heightened by the foundation stones, which are “adorned with every kind of jewel” (vv. 21:19-20). These jewels are not the foundation stones themselves but are set into them. This connects with Peter’s statement that Christians “like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5). The eternal city is built of God’s people themselves, and His grace within us is now working the glory that will then reflect the splendor of His beauty forever.
The idea of God’s people as a holy priesthood is heightened by the realization that these jewels correspond to the gems that formed a rectangular pattern of the breastplate of Israel’s high priest. This makes sense when we realize that Aaron’s garments were intended to replicate the tabernacle in miniature and that his breastpiece was designed to reflect the glory of the presence of God. The twelve stones represented the twelve tribes of Israel, whose names were engraved on them. The people formerly represented by those stones now are themselves the holy of holies in which God dwells with His glory within them.
By bearing the stones into God’s presence, Aaron not only represented the people in making the atoning sacrifice for their sins, but also signified God’s pledge that one day the whole people of God would live within the holy of holies. Revelation 21:16-20 sees the fulfillment of this promise in the eternal age to come. It is noteworthy that the foundation stones of Revelation 21 bear the names of the twelve apostles, since the promise of Israel is fulfilled in the gospel-believing apostolic church. Jesus Christ is, of course, the Great High Priest who brings His people into God’s presence through the true sacrifice of His blood, ensuring the saving blessing of God on every believer.
The crowning detail of this spectacular vision is John’s description of the city gates (v. 21). In the ancient world, pearls were valued far above gems; here the gate towers are each formed by a single gigantic pearl. The gates of pearl are a symbol of unimaginable beauty and riches. This is why Jesus used a “pearl of great value” to describe His kingdom of salvation (Matt. 13:45-46). Since these gates provide entry into Christ’s eternal city, it is no wonder that they are formed of pearls. We are thus reminded that nothing is more valuable to us or more glorious in fulfillment than the salvation we receive through humble faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
In reflecting on this remarkable vision, we must consider a number of truths. The first is the unity of the Bible. The promise embedded in Moses’ more primitive tabernacle structure and in the high priest’s breastplate has in God’s timing come to perfect fulfillment in the New Jerusalem to come. We are part of that history now, and the Bible that guides us presents a single redemptive purpose that can only be the work of the true and Sovereign God. The remarkable unity of this book that was written over fifteen hundred years, together with its transcendent message that was far beyond what Moses could have conceived, bears testimony to the divine nature of the Bible’s origin.
Another truth for us to emphasize is that God’s eternal dwelling is not a place but is His people. This is not to say that after Christ’s return there is no physical realm of God, for there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1). Yet the symbolism of John’s vision depicts not merely that there is a place for God’s people to dwell, but also that God’s people are the ultimate place where God intends to dwell in the radiance of His glory. The key truth for Christians to understand today is not only that we are accepted as righteous through faith in Christ but that, having been justified, we have God living in us through the Holy Spirit. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
As Christ lives in us, He is preparing us as “living stones” who are together “being built up as a spiritual house” for God (1 Peter 2:5). The day is coming when we will finally put on the glory of God in order to be His fitting dwelling. Or to put is differently, the jewels of the city in John’s vision are the adornment of the divine Bridegroom for the bride He is taking into His love forever. In this life, Christ is working that beauty in us in order to “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).
Revelation 21:15-21 Study Questions:
What is the significance of the connection between the holy of holies and the New Jerusalem?
How are the walls of the city decorated (vv. 18-21)?
How might we live in a way that is open to receiving great gifts from God rather than always trying to build everything ourselves?
How do you see the glory of this future reality peeping through in our world today?
Revelation 21:9 begins the final of the seven visionary cycles in the book of Revelation and the last main section of the book. We see this in the angel’s invitation, “Come” (v. 9). In Revelation 4:1, John was summoned into heaven to witness God’s plan for the church age, beginning the cycles of visions from chapters 4-16. In Revelation 17:1, John was told, “Come,” this time to witness the judgment and final destruction of Christ’s enemies (Rev. 17:1-21:8). Now John is called to witness the bliss of Christ’s people in the eternal glory.
John makes a point of stating that this summons came from “one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues” (v. 9). This angel of wrath reminds us that the fulfillment of God’s plan relies equally on God’s work of judgment and of salvation. Seeing this angel who earlier condemned the great prostitute (17:1) warns us that all history is summed up by the two women of Revelation: we must belong either to the harlot Babylon, doomed to perish for wantonness in this life, or to the bride of God’s Son, blessed to enter into glory through a holiness that begins even now.
When the angel invites John to see the bride, he is looking ahead to the time when the sacred marriage between Christ and His church has taken place, leading to an eternity of loving intimacy and mutual sharing. The basis for this love is stated by the reference to Christ as the “Lamb.” Jesus is referred to in this way seven times in this final section of Revelation, emphasizing that the union between Jesus and His people is based on His sacrificial death to remove the curse of our sins. The cross is sufficient not only to establish the beginning of the Christian life but to sustain our relationship with Jesus forever.
Believers learn from verse 9 not only what we will be but what we are now. Having come to Jesus in saving faith, we are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb so as to enter into His love. If you are a Christian, you are being prepared in the beauty of holiness so that the purifying of your character is a primary task of this life. But you are already betrothed to Christ, your eternal destiny in His love having been made certain by His sacrifice for you. You are fundamentally different from everyone who is not Christian, and your lifestyle is to reflect this difference in holy obedience. Those cleansed by the Lamb are delivered from the judgment awaiting the harlot Babylon.
While John’s vision begins with a reference to Christ’s bride, the bulk of the passage describes the church as the holy city of God. These ideas may be joined to remind us that this vision of walls and gates describes the people of Christ themselves. John was “carried…away in the Spirit to a great high mountain” (v. 10), which he ascended spiritually, not physically, to see his own future together with the whole of the church.
The angel brings John to a high mountain where the eternal city is located. Isaiah foretold: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the great highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it” (Isa. 2:2). On this high mountain of eternity, John was shown “the holy city of Jerusalem.” Here we see the image, so often emphasized in Revelation, of God dwelling with His people to share His glory. God promised Abraham a vast multitude of spiritual offspring, as numerous as the stars in the desert sky, and a home in which they would dwell (Gen. 15:1-21). Now that promise is fulfilled in the holy city, true Jerusalem.
John sees the city “coming down out of heaven from God” (v. 10). This city does not represent the achievement of man in finally erecting a self-glorying stairway to heaven. It is instead the culmination of God’s working in redemptive history to bring about His loving eternal purpose. Its name, “Jerusalem,” plainly identifies the city as the final result of His ancient working through the people of Israel and especially by the saving ministry of Christ for the sake of His covenant people.
John not only emphasizes that the city comes down as God’s gracious gift but also highlights its special character: it is “the holy city” (v. 10). The purpose of this city is the fellowship of God with His people, and therefore it is a holy place for holy ones. John compares the holiness and glory of God’s city to a shinning jewel: “its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” (v. 11). We are not exactly sure about the identity of jewels called by ancient names, but the idea here is not so much of transparency as it is of a brilliant, sparkling gem. We should envision a diamond shinning out in beautiful facets of light. Similarly, God’s holy city, composed of His holy people, will reflect all His attributes in the perfection of their glory.
If God’s Word is not changing you in the direction of spiritual holiness and moral purity, then on what basis do you expect to be part of “the holy city of Jerusalem,” which radiates the glory of God like jasper? Christians will rightly answer that they expect to enter this glory through faith alone, trusting in the finished work of Christ as the Lamb of God who died for our sins. This is profoundly true. But many professing Christians fail to realize that Christ’s finished work of justification invariably launches a present work of sanctification that will be finished only in the age to come. The mark of the Christian is therefore a growing holiness in faith-communion with God through Jesus Christ.
Not only is John shown the church as a beautiful bride and a holy city radiating the glory of God, but this opening section of the final visions in Revelation adds details about the wall that surrounds the Jerusalem to come: “It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed” (v. 12).
The wall surrounding a great city has the purpose of providing security. There admittedly no enemies remaining after the final judgment. But the wall conveys the security of salvation inside the city as well as the protective character of God for His people. It is “a great, high wall,” symbolizing the inviolable care of God in saving His own. The walls of God’s city are adorned “with twelve gates” (v. 12). Gates function to permit entry into a city, and these twelve gates show the abundant invitation for all people to enter God’s city through faith in Christ. There are three gates on each side of the squared city (v. 13). In Revelation, the four corners speak of the entirety of the world from which God’s people are gathered. These are not small gates, but large entry towers, fitting for a great multitude from every tribe, language, and nation that are assembled into God’s city.
Each gate is assigned an angel (v. 12). With such guardians, none will enter the eternal Jerusalem except those who are sealed for entry through the blood of the Lamb. At the beginning of Revelation, John was shown the angel of the churches (Rev. 1:20). The Bible does indicate the idea of guardian angels, and as God’s sentinels these angels know who belongs to the Lord and who does not. None will enter fraudulently or on any other basis that that established by God.
Furthermore, “on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed” (v. 12). Here, the emphasis is not on the individual tribes but the twelve of them together. All through Revelation, twelve is the number of God’s people (see 7:4), just as it was the number of the tribes of God’s Old Testament nation. This city represents the fulfillment of Israel’s hope and the result of God’s redeeming work as revealed through His servants the prophets.
Finally, “the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (v. 14). Ancient walls had large decorative foundation stones, and here the apostles are seen as the foundation of the eternal church. This imagery refers to the New Testament witness of Jesus Christ and the evangelistic labor of the apostles in founding the first churches.
If you look to the foundation of your faith and your hope of salvation you will also find your answer in the mission of Christ’s apostles. It is through the written testimony of God’s Word, commissioned through the eyewitness disciples, that we are certain of our hope through Jesus Christ. The apostles themselves took their stand on God’s Word. Our salvation hope rests securely on the apostolic testimony inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, which declares salvation now even as that Word will form the foundation of God’s eternal city. It is through this same foundation of God’s Word that every true church is established and built up today.
As Christians look ahead to the holy city of the age to come, we thank God that the destination is better than the journey. We have what Paul called “our blessed hope” in the return of Christ and the glory He brings (Titus 2:13). For all the many blessings of this life, we like Abraham face present trials and disappointments by “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). By faith, the things of the world to come become real to us now. We thus begin to reflect now some of the glory of God that in the end will radiate from us like a glittering jewel.
Revelation 21:9-14 Study Questions:
How is the New Jerusalem specifically designed to reflect the identity of God’s people (vv. 12-14)?
How is studying God’s Word changing you?
What is the purpose of “the holy city”?
In revelation 21:5-8, the apostle John’s long tour of church history brings him finally to the end of the world. Previous visions have brought us to the brink of the end. But the sixth cycle of visions, starting in chapter 17, has seen judgment and removal of all Christ’s enemies. The great harlot Babylon has fallen. The beast and false prophet have gone into the lake of fire. Satan the dragon has also been cast into the fiery lake, together with even death and Hades. The sea itself – the symbolic source of chaos and evil – is no more. Now the end of history has been reached in the final verses of the sixth section of Revelation (six being the number of fallen mankind). And here, at the end, John and his readers face God Himself: “And he who was seated on the throne said” (v. 5).
On only two occasions in the book of Revelation does God Himself speak directly. The first occasion was at the beginning: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’” (Rev. 1:8). Now, at the end of history, we face God Himself once more. In this way, Revelation makes a vital point: every living soul must deal with God. All through life we may follow the distractions that keep us from reckoning with God, but in the end we must all face Him. Have you stood before God? Are you afraid to think of God, to realize that God sees you and knows you? Are you afraid to speak directly to Him? Because we must all face God, we have no greater need than to know Him. Verses 5-8 shows God as He is and as He will be at the end of the world: a God of truth, a God of life, and a God of justice. We see Him taking delight in His victory over all things, declaring His final purpose: “Behold, I am making all things new” (v. 5).
The God of truth: In verse 5 God speaks to John: “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Here, God Himself bears witness to the truth of His Word. He is able to establish truth because, as Hebrews 6:18 asserts, “it is impossible for God to lie.” God’s nature demands that He be faithful to His promises. Paul writes: “He who calls you faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24). In writing down the words that God has given him, John is fulfilling his apostolic office. When Paul said that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20), he meant that by writing down the New Testament, they secured for us the truths committed to them by God for us to believe.
Not only was God speaking to John when He appeared in this vision on the Isle of Patmos, but God speaks to us now as this same Word is read and preached. Ultimately, it is by the Word itself that we know the truth of the Bible, as God speaks directly to us just as He did to John. God reveals the truth of His Word by His Word as the Spirit applies it to our hearts. John writes in verse 5, “He who was seated on the throne said,” and by His declaration that “these words are trustworthy and true,” His people know and recognize the truth of God’s Word. This is why John needed to write the book of Revelation, so that the persecuted believers of his day would receive God’s truth by God’s Word just as tempted believers today need the same.
Not only does God declare the truth of His Word by His own direct assertion, but He declares that the events fortold in Revelation are already fully established: “And he said to me, ‘It is done!’” (v. 6). God is standing at the end of history, speaking to John in the midst of history to declare a future that is already certain. People say that the only certain things are death and taxes. But believers know that everything promised in God’s Word is absolutely certain and worthy of our faith.
In addition to declaring the truth of His Word and the accomplished reality of His promises, God declares to John, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (v. 6). Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and omega is the last. By calling Himself “the Alpha and the Omega,” God speaks of His eternal being: He is the Creator who brought all things into existence, and He is the Judge who brings all things to their final end. The point is God’s sovereignty over all things: He can ensure the end because he was Lord at the beginning and remains sovereign through every moment of history. As the Alpha and the Omega of history, God rules absolutely over all things in between.
The God of Life: The God who stands at the end of the world is not only the speaker of truth but also the giver of life. He declares: “Behold I am making all things new” (v. 5). God alone can truly renew because of the Spirit that He sends. He is doing this work now in the hearts of those who believe in Jesus. The old under the domination of sin comes to an end through the new birth into faith in Christ, and a new life begins with power from God for purity, truth, and love. What God is doing now on a limited scale in His people He will extend to all things at the end.
The great tragedy of the world is that lost sinners resent God and avoid Him as much as possible. Men and women recoil at the idea of facing God and try as hard as they can to avoid even thinking about Him. Yet the God they are fleeing is a merciful giver of life. God thus says to John, “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment” (v. 6). This is God’s message to you if you have never turned to Him in faith. He offers you a life that has its origin in the spring of His own eternal vitality and being.
God offers through His Son everything that the soul needs in order to have eternal life: mercy, grace, pardon, peace, and strength from above. God offers you eternal life as a free gift because of the grace of His generous heart. God’s offer to provide salvation like a spring of water speaks to the experience of life that He offers the thirsty through Jesus. But He adds another aspect of life when He speaks of the relationship that the faithful will fully enter into at the end. “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (v. 7). If it is the thirsty who are invited to drink from God’s living spring, it is “the one who conquers” who attains the heritage of eternal sonship with God. Together, these two descriptions capture the beginning and the end of the Christian life.
The God of Justice: At the end of the world, God sits enthroned in truth and in the life that He gives. Those who have thirsted for salvation so as to drink from His grace and who have conquered in faith so as to be granted the status of sons will meet God there for an eternal experience of glory. Yet God was speaking to John while the apostle was still living on this earth. This means that a warning must accompany these soaring statements of grace. The God of truth and love must also be revealed as a God of justice who punishes all unforgiven sins. The Lord therefore concluded: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (v. 8). Those who thirst for sin and for the pleasures of the world, together with those who collaborate in the world’s rebellion against God, will receive not the heritage of glory but the portion of condemnation reserved for all of God’s spiritual enemies in hell.
This is not to say that Christians are people who have never committed such sins or that believers’ lives are completely free from such sins now. God is not telling John that anyone who has ever committed sexual immorality or who has lied is barred from eternal life. Christ came to redeem these very kinds of sinners (Mark 10:45; 1 Tim. 1:15), and the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses believers from all their sins (1 John 1:7). The point is that those who are saved from such sins are called to renounce them in such a way that they cannot remain characteristic of a Christian’s lifestyle.
Since the God who is enthroned at the end of history is a God of justice, not all will enter into that glorious life. Not all will be saved in the end, but many will follow their rebellious life with an eternal portion “in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (v. 8). Just as believers will glorify God’s truth and God’s grace in eternal life, unbelieving sinners will glorify God’s perfect justice in the eternal condemnation of hell.
At the end of the world, God sits enthroned. Every human being will face Him, and God’s sovereign rule will be the arbiter of every person’s eternal destiny. If God is the One who matters most in the end, then God also matters most now. For this reason, every person is called by God’s Word to be reconciled to God through the forgiveness offered by Jesus (2 Cor. 5:20).
There is a single command that God gives to his servant in this passage: “Also he said, ‘Write this down’” (v. 5). John was to write down God’s message, recording the entire book of Revelation. This hails the Word of God as heaven’s chief provision for mankind, by which sinners are warned to their future meeting with God and learn of His grace for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Revelation 21:5-8 Study Questions:
What is the message that comes from the One who sits on the throne Himself (v. 5)?
What is included in “all things”?
What difference should it make in how we live now to know that God’s ultimate purpose is to renew all things of this present existence?
The opening statement of revelation 21:1 provides some of the greatest encouragement that Christians could ever receive. The Bible states that when Christ returns, the “heavens and the earth,” which is a way of referring to both the physical universe and the spiritual world order, will be cleansed and renewed in glory.
Verse 1 adds a statement that sums up the removal of all evil: “and the sea was no more.” In the symbolism of Revelation, the sea has a theological rather than topographical meaning. The sea is the realm of evil and rebellion against God. Psalm 74 describes salvation as God’s breaking the head of “sea monsters” and crushing “Leviathan,” the great mythical sea beast that represents idolatrous opposition to God (Ps. 74:12-14). In Revelation 12:17, Satan “stood on the sand of the sea,” and then raised up his beast “out of the sea” (Rev. 13:1). In chapters 17-20, John was shown the removal of the dragon, his beasts, and the harlot, together with their entire wicked program. Finally, even the sea from which they came will be no more.
The second feature of the new creation ushered in by Christ’s return is a vision of the church as we will then be: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (v. 2). Isaiah had foreseen a redeemed Jerusalem that is made righteous by God’s coming and that receives a new name reflecting a marriage relationship of love with God (Isa. 62:2-5). John sees this promise fulfilled not in Jesus’ first appearing but in the second coming of Christ. Jerusalem was the earthly center of God’s redeeming acts in history, especially in the atoning death of His Son. Therefore, just as creation is glorified in the new heaven and new earth, redemption comes to glorious consummation in the coming of the new Jerusalem.
Verse 1 showed a hew heaven and new earth, a regenerated creation in which all of Christ’s enemies are removed. In the new Jerusalem, we see God’s renewed people no longer condemned by sin. The flood cleansed the world until Noah and his family got out of the ark. Their entry brought a return of sin to the world (Gen. 9:18-25). It will not be so in the new heaven and new earth. Believers are qualified to enter eternal loving intimacy with God’s Son because we are cleansed of our sin by His blood and justified in the garment of His imputed righteousness. This is why John says that the church is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (v. 2). By the atoning sacrifice in His blood, Jesus has forever removed our sin, gaining forgiveness before God for all who believe. So perfect is Christ’s preparation of His bride that John sees the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isa. 62:5).
Our present fallen world suffers the tyranny of Christ’s enemies, so that we now live in a spiritual wasteland of corruption and temptation. To make matters worse, we have the calamity of our own sinful nature. A third evil of our present age is seen in the consequences of sin in terms of the ravages of grief and sorrow. Verses 1-2 saw the sea and all evil removed from our future environment and God’s people cleansed and adorned for glory. Now the life of the age to come is made new, with no more misery under the cursed reign of sin and death. John writes: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (v. 4).
The sorrows of this life put tears on our cheeks and pain in our hearts. But when Christ returns, those who are joined to Him by faith will experience the fullness of eternal life. Isaiah foresaw that “the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa. 35:10).
Most lovely of all, it will be God’s own hand that wipes away our tears. The imagery of verse 4 poignantly has us entering into glory with the tears of our sorrowful lives still upon our cheeks. What image can more fully express the sheer pain of life in this fallen world! But our loving heavenly Father greets us, wiping the last tears we will ever shed from our faces, and bidding us to weep no more forever and ever. Indeed, in verse 4, God’s hand reaches to us even now, gathering up our tears and showing us a time soon to come when Christ has returned and grief will be no more. Encouraged by His grace, we face the sorrows of this life with courage, heartened in our pilgrimage toward the promised land ahead.
So far, Revelation’s picture of the new creation has been primarily by way of negation: there will be no sea, no stain of sin, and no more weeping or sorrow. At the heart of the passage, however, is the great positive blessing awaiting Christ’s people: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (v. 3).
The voice speaking from God’s throne literally says, “The tabernacle of God is with men and he will tabernacle with them.” This fulfills the promise given in Ezekiel 37:26-27, looking ahead to the time when God’s Spirit came through the new and everlasting covenant in Christ: “I will…set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Christians enjoy greater privileges than God’s people knew in the Old Testament. Then, only Moses and the high priests could enter God’s tabernacle and see His glory, whereas now God’s glory tabernacles in the heart of every believer through the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). But in the age to come, the longing of every spirit to know God and see His face will be perfectly fulfilled. The communion that God has eternally purposed to enjoy with His people will be achieved.
It has been said that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. The converse is true when it comes to the Bible’s revelation of the future. Without this vision of the new heaven and the new earth, we will live without the hope Christ offers, without the purpose He supplies, and without the glory He promises.
The Bible teaches that you are children of God, coheirs with Christ for eternal glory, and the people in whom God Himself will dwell and on whose faces the light of His glory will shine. How can this be? Because Christ has come to conquer sin and Christ is coming back to bring the fulness of salvation.
A holy city. A beautiful bride. A tearless everlasting life. A loving, Divine Savior who awaits the consummation of our love. Who will be there? All who confess their sins, trust in the blood of Jesus, and believe in the gospel of His salvation!
Revelation 21:1-4 Study Questions:
What does John see coming down out of heaven (v. 2)?
What does it mean that God will “dwell” with His people (v. 3)?
Which of the promises offered in verses 3-4 offers you the most comfort and hope right now, and why?
As the apostle John presents the final vision of Revelation 20, he wants his readers to face the reality of the final judgment. John wrote: “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it” (v. 11). The apostle Paul warned that God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world” (Acts 17:31). Jesus defined this day as the day of His return: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne (Matt. 25:31). Whatever clever arguments may be made to urge us not to expect God’s judgment, Revelation 20:11-15 starkly upholds the words of the Nicene Creed: Christ “will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.”
John begins by describing the judgment seat: “Then I saw a great white throne” (v. 11). Back in chapter 4:2, John was invited into heaven and the first thing he saw was a throne, and now at the end it fills his vision. As a “great” throne, it exudes majesty and authority. As a “white” throne, it radiates perfect purity, holiness, and incorruptible righteousness. When Isaiah saw his vision of the heavenly courtroom, the seraphim were crying, “Holy, holy, holy” (Isa. 6:3). The great white throne conveys the same message of infinite perfect justice.
John doesn’t specify who is seated on the throne, which suggests the presence of God the Father, as when this throne was first seen in chapter 4. In Daniel 7:9, from which John’s vision likely draws, it was “the Ancient of Days” who sat on the throne, clothed as “white as snow.” The Bible also states, however, that Jesus will judge the world together with the Father. Therefore, while verse 11 seems to focus on God the Father, it is clear that Jesus, God’s Son, is the agent to whom judgment is committed, which is why He was seated at the right hand of the holy God (Eph. 1:20; Heb. 12:2).
John adds the striking statement: “From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them” (v. 11). This imagery connects with earlier language in Revelation that was tied to Christ’s return. After the sixth seal was opened, John saw a cataclysmic end to the physical order, with a great earthquake and the falling of stars. “The sky vanished like a scroll,” he said (Rev. 6:12-14). This shows the upheaval that results from the absolute holiness and majesty of God when His throne is brought into the fallen world order. The reason for the fleeing of creation was “transgression and sins” (Mic. 1:5).
In addition to the reality of judgment, John’s vision presents the scope of the final judgment: “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne” (v. 12). The meaning is that every human being who has ever lived will stand in this judgment. John emphasizes the general resurrection of all the dead to stand before God’s throne. Jesus said that “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out” (John 5:28). The universality of this resurrection is conveyed in verse 13. The point is that all will stand before the judgment throne. John emphasizes that there will be no distinctions, since the “great and small” stand together before God.
Since each of us will be present before God’s throne, we should realize now what is the basis for the final judgment. John answers: “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened… And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (v. 12). Here we arrive at the vital matter. Since each of us must face God’s judgment, what will be the basis of condemnation?
The Bible is clear in stating that we are judged by our deeds. A book is opened, John reports, pointing out the divine record of our every thought, word, and deed, together with our sinful omissions. The infinite and omnipresent God has watched over every detail of history, with a perfect and infallible observation. This thought is unsettling, to say the least. Yet while we might forget our transgressions, the Righteous Judge of the universe remembers every single one. Not only are all our sins recorded in God’s book, but that book will be opened before all creation and the great white throne of the holy God.
When we understand the basis for God’s judgment, we realize the great problem that all of us are guilty and stand worthy of condemnation. For this reason, the most important of all truths is how sinners can escape from final judgment. John answers: “Then another book was opened, which is the book of life” (v. 12). The Bible states that God has a record of every person chosen to be saved by His grace. This book contains not deeds but names.
The full name of this book is given in Revelation 13:8: “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” This makes clear that election and salvation are always in Christ. To say that it is the book “of the Lamb” is to affirm that the names recorded are those who belong to Jesus Christ. Moreover, in calling Jesus “the Lamb who was slain,” this book records those who are saved by means of His atoning death for sin. Paul exclaims: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). This redemption is received through faith in Jesus.
The question is raised about believers’ standing before God to be judged according to their deeds. It is clear in John’s vision that while all mankind outside Christ must be judged by the book of their works, believers in Christ are vindicated by the record of their names in the Book of Life. With our sins forgiven through His blood, our good deeds will then be rewarded with the praise of our dear Savior and Lord (Matt. 25:35-40). This is the reason of Paul’s statement that believers must appear before Christ and the reason we should be zealous in our living (2 Cor. 5:10). It is for this reason that Christians are taught to look forward to the return of Christ and the final judgment. Not only the guilt but also the shame of our sin was fully borne by Jesus on the cross. We will face not judgment but our coronation as joint heirs together with Christ in blessing.
Yet how dreadful is the punishment of the final judgment for those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and who are judged for their sins. John writes: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15). This statement makes it clear that no one will ever be saved by his or her own works. The reason was stated by the apostle Paul: “None is righteous, no, not one; … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10, 23). Since all are sinners, none can be justified by their works before God. Salvation comes only through faith in Jesus, by grace, according to the Lamb’s Book of Life.
John’s vision of the final judgment concludes with God’s ultimate victory – a triumph over even hell and death themselves: “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire” (v. 14). Death was the curse brought by sin into God’s perfect creation. In order for Christ to bring the “new heaven and a new earth” of eternal glory (21:1), then He must put an end to the curse of death, along with Hades, the abode of the condemned. Because of this victory, the final judgment is a day of rejoicing for the holy angels together with God’s redeemed people. For then it will be truly declared by the exultant voices of heaven: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (11:15).
Revelation 20:11-15 Study Questions:
What is the significance of the books that are opened as the dead gather around the throne (vv. 12-15)?
How does knowing we are in the Lamb’s Book of Life change who we are and what we do today?
How have you seen the Spirit of God working within you to redeem and enhance your thoughts, desires and actions?
The vision of Revelation 20:7-10 reflects the New Testament teaching of a great rebellion that will mark the end of the church age. Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 24:21: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” Paul wrote that Christ “will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” (2 Thess. 2:3).
Revelation variously has depicted this intense attack against the church. In chapter 11, the church is represented by twin witnesses resembling Moses and Elijah. When their witness is concluded, “the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them,” until Christ raises them three and a half days later (Rev. 11:7-11). Revelation 20:1-3 shows Satan as bound during the church age, “until…he must be released for a little while” (20:3); John picks up this thought in verses 7-8.
We should notice that Satan is “released” from his bonds, emphasizing the sovereign rule of God over him. This detail reminds us that however mighty the devil may be, he remains a finite creature of limited strength, unable to match the infinite might of God. We remember from our study of verses 1-3 that the binding of Satan has to do with God’s forbidding him to “deceive the nations any longer” (v. 3), so that the gospel may spread throughout the world. The binding of Satan doesn’t mean that his evil activities are totally curtailed but that he no longer has authority to bind the nations in the darkness of unbelief. It is noteworthy, then, that as soon as Satan is released, this is precisely what he does: he “will come out to deceive the nations” (v. 8).
This combination shows us that Satan’s chief instrument in this world is not violent persecution but deceptions that promote unbelief. This is why the Christian church is sent into the world with the truth. Whatever else the church does, it must boldly proclaim the truth if God’s Word, refusing to compromise with the prevailing dogmas of secularist unbelief. We are constantly told today that Christians must be less doctrinally fixated and that we must be more tolerant of worldly ideas and practices. This approach should alarm us, given Satan’s chief strategy of binding unbelievers with deception. Moreover, we see that the sinful tendencies of the human heart do not evolve upward over time. As soon as God lifts His restraint of Satan, “the nations” are deceived once more.
The purpose of Satan’s deceptions has always been to lead darkened mankind into warfare against God, and so will be the great tribulation that ends the age (v. 8). The book of Revelation makes clear that this battle is the same final conflict that earlier received the name “Armageddon” (16:16). The great battle of chapter 19 draws the imagery of feeding carrion birds from Ezekiel 39, and the battle of chapter 20 draws the names “Gog and Magog” from Ezekiel 38, where the prophet foretold a great assault on God’s people after the age of their blessing. Regarding the final battle, Ezekiel wrote: “Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him” (38:2). By using this same designation, Revelation is saying that its final battle is the same final battle anticipated by Ezekiel.
John’s language confirms the New Testament teaching of a final worldwide persecution of the Christian church (see Matt. 24:21; 2 Thess. 2:3-4). First, the nations are gathered from “the four corners of the earth…for battle” (Rev. 20:8). This shows that the final battle is launched not merely by a far-eastern nation such as Russia or China, as popular prophecy teaching often states. It is the entire world that gathers for a stand against the authority of God. Second, “their number is like the sand of the sea” (v. 8), referring to the vastness of these enemies. The battle will not pit evenly matched forces, so that Christians may hope to succeed by their own strength. Rather, only the power of God is able to save them.
This vast worldwide army “marched up over the broad plain of the earth” (v. 9). The idea is of a great army marching over a vast tract of ground. Their objective is the church: “and surround the camp of the saints and the beloved city.” This recaps the biblical model for the salvation of God’s people. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel was placed at the mercy of wicked powers, yet was delivered by God’s sudden intervention. It was the situation of John’s readers, surrounded by pagan rulers who wielded the Roman sword. How often believers have experienced this plight, from David’s exile in the caves of Judea, to the Chinese house churches that meet secretly to avoid arrest, to the Christian churches in Muslim lands that meet under the threat of violence and attack. So in the end the entire church will be besieged, so that a refusal to worship idols and a bold witness to Christ will result in suffering.
Notice the language with which John describes the church: “the camp of the saints and the beloved city” (v. 9). The first description alludes to the camp of Israel in the exodus journey: the church is likewise the pilgrim body of believers passing through life toward a promised land beyond. It is with this in mind that Peter urged Christians to avoid the pollutions of sin (1 Pet. 2:11). At the same time, though we are despised as aliens by the world, the church is God’s “beloved city.” Babylon stands for the prostitute world, just as Jerusalem represents the church as the bride of Christ. Whereas God will judge and condemn faithless Babylon, the faithful church bears His love and receives His promise of an eternal salvation.
We can tell that the people of God are God’s beloved city because of His fiery defense of her from Satan’s attack: “but fire came down from heaven and consumed them” (v. 9). Here, as elsewhere in Revelation and the New Testament, Christ’s second coming results in the immediate defeat of all the foes who afflicted His church. Ezekiel specified that fire would fall on Magog both to defend God’s people and to glorify His name (Ezek. 39:6). This point emphasizes that the church does not fight to defend herself. Revelation 12:11 described her warfare as trusting in Christ’s blood, bearing testimony to God’s Word, and offering our lives to seal our witness.
The main emphasis in this vision is the defeat and destruction of Satan himself (v. 10). Notice that the devil is primarily judged for deceiving the nations, reminding us again that the church’s ministry of truth through God’s Word is always the world’s greatest need. The greatest victory of history is Jesus’ conquest of sin by His blood, and that victory is joined with His defeat of Satan, the great tyrant and deceiver of the world. Knowing this, Christians face the future with great hope, since God has ordained the judgment and condemnation of Satan. This judgment was anticipated in Matthew’s Gospel when demons whom Jesus had cast out admitted knowing of their coming judgment (Matt. 8:29). Jesus said that this time had not yet come, but Revelation shows that history ends with the greatest agents of evil receiving a terrible and just punishment from God.
The final words of this vision are poignant and decisive: “forever and ever” (v. 10). This constitutes the gravest warning for those who enter into rebellion with Satan, reveling in sin and rebelling against God’s rule. Their punishment is as eternal as God Himself is. Sin, being an offense to God’s justice and holy nature, is eternal, and so are its consequences. This same “forever and ever” provides the Christian with a ground for a most joyful hope. Our own sin will be not only forgiven but actually removed. There will be no adversary to accuse us but only God’s justice to demand our justification through faith in Christ.
What is the meaning of this “forever and ever” to believers now? It means that we have an antidote to the crippling fear of persecution that might otherwise undermine our faith. Why would we forsake Jesus Christ amid the afflictions of this world when we know how the story ends? Jesus wins! Why would we abandon His victorious cause, even though it may entail suffering for a little while in tribulation, and even if discipleship to Him requires us to renounce the sinful pleasures of the condemned world? Because we know this end, and the “forever and ever” beyond it without fear, sin, or death, let our worship, our service, and our lives now reflect the joy that belongs to the people of the beloved city that God has made His own.
Revelation 20:7-10 Study Questions:
What is the significance of Satan being released after the thousand years are ended (v. 7)?
The troops go straight for the camp of the saints, but no battle takes place. What happens instead (vv. 9-10)?
How does this picture of the ultimate overthrow of the devil give us hope to face trouble today (v. 10)?
John begins the vision, “Then I saw thrones” (v. 4). This raises the question: Where are these thrones located? According to the premillennial view, these thrones are on earth, since the thousand years sees faithful Christians as reigning with Christ on earth. This claim is problematic, since of the forty-seven times that the word throne is used in Revelation, the thrones are almost always in heaven. The only exceptions are three occasions when the throne of Satan or the beast is mentioned on earth (2:13; 13:2; 16:10), and the references to God’s throne after He has come down to reign in the new heaven and new earth (22:1, 3). On every other occasion, especially when the Lamb or the angelic representatives of the church are enthroned, the scene is in heaven. Moreover, Jesus earlier gave a promise that is fulfilled in this scene, locating it in heaven (3:21).
The argument is made by premillennialists that the thrones have come to earth because of Christ’s earthly millennial reign after His return. But the text states that John saw “the souls of those who had been beheaded” seated on the thrones (v. 4). This verse clearly connects with an earlier vision of the souls of martyrs in heaven, who are described in nearly identical terms (6:9). Revelation 20:4 explains that these souls had been “beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God.” These are evidently the same persons. Moreover, verse 5 contrasts these souls with “the rest of the dead,” making it clear that John is seeing a vision of the saints in glory, those believers who have died are translated into the presence of Christ in heaven.
The thousand years we studied in Revelation 20:1-3, giving the amillennial answer that John describes as the entirety of the church age. The millennium – the number one thousand symbolizing a lengthy and perfect duration of time – began with Christ’s ascension to His throne and will conclude with His return to usher in the new heaven and new earth. During this present millennial age, Christ is reigning in heaven, and since these souls are reigning with Him, the location can be only in heaven.
This means that Revelation 20:4-6 provides a heavenly counterpart to the events taking place on earth in verses 1-3. It describes what is known as the intermediate state: the state of believers’ souls after death and before Christ’s return and the resurrection of the body. John’s vision shows these souls seated on thrones above during the gospel age. When Jesus returns, these spirits will be rejoined to their bodies to reign with Christ not merely for a thousand years – “they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).
So who is seated on these thrones? At the least, these are the souls of martyrs who suffered death for their faith in Christ (v. 4). Some premillennial scholars argue that this vision shows martyrs of the faith receiving the special reward of reigning with Christ on earth during the thousand years. Dispensational writers give a number of opinions, including the view that it is not martyrs but the saints who fought with Christ before His return (Rev. 19:14) who now exercise judgment with Him on earth. There can be no doubt however, that John sees a vision of martyrs reigning with Christ on thrones above. The question is asked of the entire church that boldly suffers for the gospel, a church typified by those who lost their lives for Christ: Have these believers lost everything by remaining loyal to Jesus? John reveals that all who remained faithful in their testimony “came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (v. 4).
We have seen that the vision of verses 4-6 describes thrones in heaven on which the souls of faithful Christians are seated during the intermediate state between their death on earth and the return of Jesus from heaven. Next John says that the saints “reign with Christ,” and called this reward “the first resurrection” (vv. 4-6). The premillennial view of history sees the statement that these souls “came to life” as requiring a physical resurrection. Premillennialists therefore teach that when Jesus returns, believers who died have their souls restored to their bodies in order to reign with Christ on earth. Only later, after the thousand years, are the bodies of unbelievers resurrected in order to stand in the final judgment.
The amillennial view, which teaches that the thousand years symbolically refers to the present church age, has a number of compelling responses to this argument. The first response is to note not only that the Bible nowhere else speaks of a thousand-year interval between the physical resurrection of believers and unbelievers, but also that the Bible positively rules out such doctrine. An example is Jesus’ teaching about His return to earth and the immediate judgment, for which all persons stand before Him in their resurrected bodies (Matt. 25:31-32). Not only is there no thousand-year interval between Christ’s return and the final judgment, but all persons – godly and ungodly – are resurrected at the same time for this event. In John 5:28-29, Jesus similarly placed the physical resurrection of all persons in a single event. By separating the return of Christ and the final judgment by a thousand years, and likewise separating the resurrection of believers and unbelievers by the millennium, the premillennial view contradicts these plain statements and must therefore be rejected.
How then, do Christians reign with Christ in heaven after their death? John answers: “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years” (v. 6). The main point is that believers reign with Christ as priests who serve in God’s presence. John has emphasized this calling from the very beginning of Revelation, saying in the benediction of 1:6 that Christ freed us from sin by His blood to be “a kingdom, priests to his God the Father.” This indicates that believers in heaven have immediate access to the presence of God and enjoy the unimaginable blessing of perfect spiritual worship before the face of divine glory. Christians who die receive a glorious advance in their redemptive experience, reigning with Christ as priests above.
In verse 4, John also said that these enthroned souls “were those to whom the authority to judge was committed.” The manner in which the saints exercise judgment is not specified, but at a minimum they have the pleasure of approving and taking part with Christ in His judgment of sin. This emphasis reflects Revelation’s deep concern for God’s justice on behalf of His persecuted church, including many of John’s original readers, who would be martyred for their faith.
How do believers reign with Christ, as priests who sit on thrones to judge? John exclaims that they reign in blessing and holiness: “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection!” (v. 6). Having been exhorted throughout Revelation to overcome by faith, the saints above are now seen to have overcome, entering the blessing of spiritual communion with God. Their bodies were destroyed on earth, but the souls reign with Christ in heaven. They are the holy ones whom God has set apart as His treasured possession forever and blessed to dwell before His glorious face.
John clinches the believers’ hope of life after death in verse 6: “Over such the second death has no power.” Christians suffer physical death, just as unbelievers do. The souls of believers are raised into heaven, awaiting the resurrection of their bodies, but with no fear of any further experience of death. How different is the fate of those who reject Christ! In death their souls do not go to heaven but to hell, and the resurrection of their bodies leads to the second death, which appears later in this chapter as eternal death in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10, 15). To believe in Christ is to experience the first resurrection but never the second death. But to reject Jesus is to be denied the first resurrection and be condemned to the second and final death.
Revelation 20:4-6 Study Questions:
For what period of time will Satan be bound and the faithful martyrs reign with Christ (vv. 2, 4)?
Why do those who share in the first resurrection become priests of God (v. 6)?
If we are already reigning with Christ, how do we serve as priests of God and Christ to those around us?