The purpose of this chapter is two-fold. First, as best we can we want to gain an understanding of the eternal state, seeing how it may differ from Bible dispensations. Second, as Christians, we should desire to understand the privileged place God has provided for the church to occupy in her future perfected state. Scripture speaks of the believer’s perfection as being conformed into the image of God’s Son (Rom. 8:29) and as washed perfectly spotless and clean as Christ’s bride in glory (Eph. 5:25-27). Here I have in mind what the Spirit of God declares through the apostle in the second chapter of Ephesians.
that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:7)
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be loosed from his chains in the bottomless pit and go forth to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth. Those that are deceived will be destroyed, and the devil will be cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev. 20:7–10). After follows the great white throne judgment where all the dead are raised up, only to be judged and cast into the lake of fire – the eternal place of evil and separation from God (Rev. 20:11–15). At the setting up of this white throne, the earth and heaven fled away. God’s first creation will no longer exist. After the judgment of the dead, and the confinement of all evil in the lake of fire, we see a new heaven and a new earth.
Revelation 21:1-8 (DARBY)
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea exists no more.
2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of the heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice out of the heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God [is] with men, and he shall tabernacle with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, their God.
4 And he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall not exist anymore, nor grief, nor cry, nor distress shall exist anymore, for the former things have passed away.
5 And he that sat on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he says [to me], Write, for these words are true and faithful.
6 And he said to me, It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to him that thirsts of the fountain of the water of life freely.
7 He that overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be to him God, and he shall be to me son.
8 But to the fearful and unbelieving, [and sinners], and those who make themselves abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part [is] in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.”
These eight verses furnish the greatest details we will find in God’s word describing the eternal state. This passage follows after the great white throne judgment found in the ending verses of the previous chapter. There is a chronology of events starting with the opening up of heaven (Rev. 19:11), continuing through the millennium, and onto the white throne judgment, finishing with verse fifteen of chapter twenty (Rev. 20:15). There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the first eight verses above follow after the events of the previous chapter. We could say they follow historically if it were not for the fact that in the eternal state there is no counting of time. But I believe you understand what I mean. The eternal state commences after the millennium, which was ended in the judgment of the great white throne. The eternal state begins with God’s new creation, in which God is all in all.296
296 [1 Cor. 15:19–28 is a passage which speaks of this same chronology of events, only with more generality and less detail. “Then comes the end…” refers to the end of the millennium – this is when Christ will deliver the kingdom to God the Father; it is only after He puts an end to all rule and all authority and all power (on the earth). For He must reign (on the earth) until He has put all enemies under His feet (vs. 24–25). Only then does He deliver His earthly millennial kingdom to His Father. This is where the eternal state is spoken of in the passage – that God may be all in all (v. 28).]
From these eight verses (Rev. 21:1–8), what may we positively and accurately reason concerning the character of the eternal state?
- There will be a new heaven and a new earth, with no sea (the old physical creation had passed away; there is a new creation from God)
- The New Jerusalem, as the tabernacle of God, comes down from heaven to reside on the earth.
- God will dwell in His tabernacle, and that tabernacle will be with men; God Himself will be with men. (Please notice: in the eternal state it is said that God will dwell with men. There are no longer nations, kings, or ethnicities. It is only described as God dwelling with men without distinctions.)
- In the eternal state there will be no more death. Because death came into the first creation as attached to sin – the sin nature, the fallen Adam state, sin in the flesh – sin will be removed from men, and death or mortality will be no more. (Please see Rom. 5:12 – sin, and death with sin, enter into the world as a consequence of Adam’s disobedience. Also see 1 Cor. 15:26, 54–56, Rev. 21:4)
- The lake of fire is the eternal prison of all evil and wickedness, and all contained there suffer eternally. It also represents eternal separation from God. In Scripture, fire is always used to represent some aspect of the judgment of God. Here it is eternal judgment and separation. This is part of the eternal state.
There are some obvious differences in character or principles to be noted between the eternal state and dispensations.
- In the eternal state there is no longer any counting of time on the earth. The millennium, the last dispensation, is described as the fullness of the times (Eph. 1:10). At the end of the millennium, the counting of time will come to an end.
- Peter describes the eternal state as new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13). The millennium is best described as a time in which righteousness will reign on the earth through the Son of Man ruling the nations with a rod of iron. (The difference is between the words reign and dwell)
- The eternal state exists in the confines of an entirely new physical creation. God’s first creation will have passed away. In truth, dispensations involve the differing ways in which God dealt with His first creation in order to bring in physical blessings – first through Israel, then through Christendom, and finally through the glorified Son of Man. But all dispensations are focused on the earth as God’s first creation. In the first two dispensations, creation was subjected to futility. But during the millennium, the curse on creation will be lifted (Rom. 8:19–21). Still, it is not until the eternal state that we see a new heavens and earth from God.
- The heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, will reside on the earth during the eternal state. Before this, during the millennium, the city is in the heavens above, shinning down in glory and grace over the earth.
- In the eternal state, mankind’s condition on the earth is no longer associated with the first Adam, the sin nature has been removed from men, along with any possibility of sickness and death. None of these things are the case with those living on the earth during the millennium. All living at that time are still fallen in Adam, continue to possess a sin nature, and are subject to possible sickness and death. Even the Jewish remnant God saves in order to begin rebuilding the nation of Israel at the beginning of the millennium, will be natural men in Adam. Although the Jews will possess great advantages over the Gentiles with God’s law written in the minds and hearts, still they are natural men during the thousand years preceding the eternal state (please read 1 Cor. 15:25–26, 54–56).
- In the eternal state there is no need for the judgment of God of man’s works and responsibilities (no need for government). But contrary to this, every dispensation which preceded the eternal state ended by the judgment of God on the failure of the particular group given responsibility in that dispensation.
- Hades contains the evil and unbelieving dead who physically died during the times of the different dispensations on the earth. But during the eternal state, all evil and unbelief will be contained in the lake of fire. These two places are not the same (Rev. 20:13–15).
- During all three dispensations, the earth was/is divided into nations. In dispensations God always had a chosen/special people that were called by Him and were His – the Jews during both the Jewish dispensation and the millennium, the church during the Christian dispensation. But in the eternal state there will be no nations; Scripture presents this state as simply men dwelling on the earth, and God and His tabernacle dwelling with them (Rev. 21:1–3).297
297 [At the beginning of the Jewish dispensation, the Jews were declared by God as His people, and He as their God (Ex. 6:7, Lev. 26:12). When prophetic passages speak of the Jews being restored in the land during the future millennium, this phrasing is again used (Jer. 24:6–7, 30:22, 31:33, 32:37–41, Ez. 34:28–30, 36:24–28, 37:21–23). However, when Israel was set aside by God for the Christian dispensation, the phrase was used in its negative form concerning them (Hos. 1:9). In contrast to this specificity of use, we see this phrase again in the passage depicting the eternal state, only now used in reference to all men on the earth without distinction (Rev. 21:3).
The above descriptions of the eternal state are fairly straight forward and shouldn’t find controversy among Christian teachers. However, what does find controversy and confusion is the passage which follows the one we quoted above. It is a detailed description of the bride, the Lamb’s wife (Rev. 21:9–22:5). There are two important questions we must answer concerning this passage in order to gain the proper spiritual understanding of it. Here is the first question.
- Is this passage chronologically positioned in the book – that is, since it follows after the description of the eternal state in the narrative, does its placement mean the passage belongs to the eternal state?
If we limited ourselves to only having a literal interpretation of Scripture, we would be heavily influenced to identify the passage as belonging to the eternal state. Having such a mindset, we also would be tempted to treat the entire book as one large chronological narrative. However, doing so is an impossibility for gaining any proper understanding. The Apocalypse can’t be read as a straight-forward historical account of future events.
Here is an understanding which will be helpful: in prophetic writings we mainly find two different types of passages – those which do contain some form of measuring time (chronological/historical) and those which are strictly descriptive in character. Allow me to give the reader some examples of both from the Revelation.
- Chronological/Historical passages: The primary passage that fits this category starts with chapter six and continues to near the end of chapter eleven (Rev. 6:1–11:18).298 This section commences with providential events which begin the future tribulation; it then progresses in a chronological order through the earthly kingdom of Jesus Christ (Rev. 11:15–17, millennial) and on to the great white throne judgment (Rev. 11:18). Every passage or section or new vision that follows after this point in the book fits into this historical narrative in order to further expand its understanding (the exception is the passage containing the eight verses describing the eternal state in chapter twenty-one) 300
298 [The last verse of chapter eleven (Rev. 11:19) really belongs to chapter twelve, seeing the ark of the covenant relates to the woman described there (Rev. 12:1), which represents Israel]
299 [Although the new heavens and new earth of the eternal state does follow after the great white throne judgment at the end of chapter twenty, still there is no time element involved with eternity. Therefore, the passage itself (Rev. 21:1–8) does not fit anywhere in the previous historical narrative (Rev. 6:1–11:18). It would follow the last verse referencing the great white throne judgment (11:18), just as it follows the expanded description of the judgment of this throne later in the book (Rev. 20:11–15). Keep in mind that there is no government or judgment during the eternal state. These things come to an end with the great white throne, which ends the times of dispensations]
300 [Beyond the main historical narrative of the Apocalypse (Rev. 6:1–11:18) we will find both descriptive and historical passages, with many of them being a mixture of both. Regardless, everything fits back into the main historical account, expanding the details and comprehension of it. We can understand the need for this internal structure of the book when we examine this primary narrative and see how much the time is compressed and what little detail there is concerning certain prophetic objects and events]
- Descriptive passages: Chapter thirteen of the Revelation provides descriptive details of Satan’s last efforts to maintain control of the world by opposing the counsels of God in and through Christ Jesus. A detailed account is provided of the future existence of two separate worldly powers, both of which will be under the direct influence and power of Satan, yet working together for the common cause of human exaltation. The picture is presented of the general activity of these two beasts during the future tribulation period. To fit these details into the historical narrative, we go back to Rev. 11:7 – there the beast is briefly mentioned.
The passage we asked our question about (Rev. 21:9–22:5) is a descriptive passage. It supplies plenty of details about the heavenly city, the holy Jerusalem. We will have to look internally in the passage for any clues as to its time frame. What we want to distinguish is whether this description refers to the city during the millennium or the eternal state.
- The passage speaks of nations and kings on the earth (Rev. 21:24–26). The existence of kings and nations is characteristic of the millennium, not the eternal state.
- The need for healing, the healing of the nations by the pure river that comes from the city (Rev. 22:2), can only refer to the millennium when sin and its consequences are still present with men on the earth.
- The use of the names Lord God Almighty are dispensational – either the Jewish dispensation or millennium. In this case it’s the millennium, when Israel is restored and exalted on the earth. Jehovah (Lord) is God’s name which references His relationship with Israel; God Almighty references how God was known to Israel’s forefathers.
Even though this passage follows after the description of the eternal state, the evidence identifies its details to be of the heavenly city during the time of the millennium. There is more that could be said in support of this passage not being part of the chronological order of events presented in chapters nineteen and twenty (Rev. 19:11–21:8), but this should suffice. Now for our second question:
- Is the bride, the Lamb’s wife, simply the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem? Or is there more here that God intends believers to grasp? Is there more meaning to the passage than the literal reading of the words?
Every true believer should already know that they have been baptized by the Spirit of God into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12–13). This body constitutes what is known as the church, according to how the Spirit of God speaks of it in Scripture (Eph. 1:22–23). The true church is also known in God’s word as the bride/wife of Christ (Eph. 5:23–32). But in the passage we are considering from the Apocalypse, the heavenly city is said to be the bride, the Lamb’s wife (Rev. 21:9–10). If these two things are represented by the same symbol in Scripture, surely the Spirit intends the believer to understand that there exists a connection, most likely an intimate connection, between the two.
The church has a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1); the church has a heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20); she is not of the world, but belongs to heaven (John 17:16). After Jesus returned to heaven, the Holy Spirit was sent down to the earth on the day of Pentecost to begin to gather together a heavenly people. The true church is destined to live in her Father’s presence and her Father’s house for all eternity. These are the counsels of God concerning her, which will display His sovereign choice and purpose to privilege her in this way through Christ. I would not hesitate to say that the church, the body and bride of Christ, is the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. Both are the bride/wife of the Lamb; both are the tabernacle of God (Eph. 2:21–22, Rev. 21:3).
Where will the church be during the millennium? What will she be doing? This isn’t well understood by many Christian teachers. The majority would have the church become residents of the earth, possibly living dispersed among the nations. It is true there will be Gentile nations on the millennial earth. Jesus will rule over them with a rod of iron and they will be made to serve the nation of Israel in order to survive (Isa. 60:11–12). But does this sound like the privileged place and position of the church, the body of Christ, the bride of Christ? Does this sound like the place of Christians who have been glorified and perfected, conformed into the image of God’s Son? Would they be living with and among natural fallen men in Adam on the earth? If the rapture takes the true church to the Father’s house in heaven, a place where Jesus has gone to prepare mansions for every believer, why would they be made to return to live on the earth? And where would they live? In Christ the Christian is made a son of God, and is no longer Jew or Gentile (Gal. 3:26–28), but now part of God’s new creation. To live on the millennial earth and back in the nations God chose us out of, is to sink back into the first creation and the first Adam. It would be a failure to recognize our redeemed state in Jesus Christ, the second Adam and heavenly Man.
In Jesus Christ, every true Christian has a heavenly calling. In truth, this calling can only be fulfilled by God taking the believer to heaven – not just in spirit and soul when one dies, which does not fulfill the calling at all. The Christian must be glorified in body in order to be able to enter the presence and glory of God. His spirit, soul, and body conformed into the image of the Son is the only means of entering the Father’s house in heaven. This is the only way God can fulfill His promises to the Christian believer.
More details concerning the millennium: God the Father will not be on the earth at this time; neither will be the church. During the millennium, God will tabernacle over the earth as the Most High God above. The Holy Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb, will be above the earth in the heavens. There God will dwell and have His throne. As the bride/wife of Christ, the church and the New Jerusalem above are essentially the same. During the Christian dispensation the true church is the habitation of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:22); during the millennium, the church will be physically with God in the heavens as His holy temple (Eph. 2:21). In this respect, her intended purpose in God’s counsels will not change. We may begin to appreciate the merging together of these two entities – the heavenly city and the church, God’s habitation and holy temple.
All believers, as members of the body of Christ and forming the true church, will sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6–7). It is for the future millennium that we are made kings and priests unto His God and Father (Rev. 1:6). “Priests” as nearest to God for the mediated blessing of the earth and “kings” for the government of God downward over the earth. This arrangement will provide the source of the rule and authority of “the kingdom of heaven,” now fully established in the heavens to rule over the kingdoms of men on the earth. At that time God will be known as “God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth” (Gen. 14:18–20). Jesus, as a Man, will be the true substance of what Melchizedek was in type. He will be a royal priest on His earthly throne, representing and mediating between God in heaven and men on the earth. As His bride, the church will be His help-meet in the mediation of grace and blessings down from above.
“And the nations shall walk by its light; and the kings of the earth bring their glory to it.” (Rev. 21:24)
This is the place of the church during the millennium – in the heavens above, in the city of their God and Father, in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 3:11–12). Christians will be made pillars in the temple of His God and they shall go out no more. The above verse from Revelation twenty-one is what is meant by the teaching Jesus gave His disciples in Matthew thirteen.
“Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matt. 13:43)
This privileged position for the church does not end with the ending of the millennium. The passage describing the eternal state shows these differentiations – God is clearly distinguished from men on the earth; the tabernacle of God, the New Jerusalem, the bride adorned for her husband, is also clearly distinguished as separate from men on the earth in eternity (Rev. 21:1–3). This is the church and its special place in Christ before God, throughout the ages and ages and eternity to come (Rev. 21:2, Eph. 2:7). This will be the eternal privilege of all true Christians.