Summary: This article was written and published Sept. ’15. There is an important passage of Scripture that starts in the first verse of Revelation twenty-one and continues through the fifth verse of Revelation twenty-two (Rev. 21:1-22:5). The controversy of Christian theologians and teachers is to which of the two generally agreed-upon future states of the earth – the millennium or the eternal state – does this passage refer? This article helps determine the correct answer to this question. But more so, the explanation provides the reader with a better general picture of the whole book of the Revelation. And towards the end we explain the special place God has given the church, the body of Christ, for both the millennium and the eternal state. You’ll want to read on…
The Millennium – an age and dispensation that will follow the present Christian dispensation. By definition it will last 1000 years. It will begin after Jesus Christ returns physically to this earth and to Israel, saving a remnant of that nation, and destroying all their enemies that mean them harm – the Roman beast, the Antichrist, their armies, and all the evil associated with them. Satan will be bound in the bottomless pit for the extent of this time. All the living will be judged by Jesus, the Son of Man (Matt. 25:31-32). The Jewish remnant will inherit the Promised Land, and will be the means of the restoration of the nation of Israel. They will grow and multiply, and be physically blessed according to the faithfulness of God (spoken in Deut. 28:1-14). All the Gentile nations will serve Israel or be destroyed (Isa. 60:12). Jesus Christ will reign as the Son of Man over all God’s creation, which now will be relieved of the burden of its corruption and futility (Rom. 8:19-22). The lion will lay down with the lamb, the serpent will no longer strike, and the wilderness places will be built up, planted, and inhabited. The Son of Man will eventually subdue all rule and authority and power of man during this time, reigning until He puts all enemies under His feet (I Cor. 15:24-25). The millennium is a time when every eye will see, which is in contrast to the present Christian dispensation and its profession and operations of faith – the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
(Now I want to mention some biblical truths about the millennium which you may not have heard or understood as yet, simply because these thoughts are not taught to much extent by our teachers.) God the Father will not be on the earth the millennium. Neither will the tabernacle of God, the New Jerusalem, the church. God will tabernacle over the earth, and the heavenly Jerusalem will have His throne above. 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 those nearest to God for the mediated blessing of the earth and “kings” as those involved in the government of God downward over the earth. This arrangement will provide the source of the authority of “the kingdom of heaven,” which at that time is fully established and developed to rule over the kingdoms of men on the earth. During the millennium God will be known as “God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth” (Gen. 14:18-20). Jesus is the true substance of what Melchizedek was in type. Jesus, as a Man, will be a royal priest on His earthly throne, representing and mediating for the Most High in heaven.
The name of God as the “Most High” always points to the millennium. Whatever passage you find it in, it always carries with it this impression and character. In Gen. 14:18-20, Abram is a type representing the end time Jewish remnant. After the defeat of all their enemies, there will be given to them physical blessings and prosperity from the Most High during the millennium through their royal priest. In Deut. 32:8-9 we see the millennial arrangement of the nations on the earth by the Most High – “He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.” In this arrangement Israel is promised to be the center and most prominent. In Daniel, the Most High is seen only as the God of heaven while the “times of the Gentiles” begin and continue on the earth (Dan. 2:31-45, Luke 21:24). This is an age which contains four progressively worsening world kingdoms of men that are successional. They are viewed as different beasts, doing their own will and not the will of God (Dan. 7:1-12). These “times of the Gentiles” continue until the Gentiles learn this lesson: The heavens will rule the earth and the Most High rules in the kingdom of men. This was the lesson taught to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel four (4) – here Nebuchadnezzar’s experience stands as a type representing the entire “times of the Gentiles.” But after this age is over, and Jesus Christ’s return destroys all vestiges of Gentile world power, the Most High will set up a kingdom that will fill the whole earth (Dan. 2:34, 35, 44, 45). This kingdom is that of Jesus, the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14).
The Son of Man’s kingdom is Jesus ruling as the perfect glorified Man. As a royal priest on His throne He will mediate between the Most High and mankind on the earth. Those that survive into the millennium, including the saved Jewish remnant, will repopulate the earth by having children. The Gentile nations will be blessed through God’s blessing of the nation of Israel. Jerusalem will be the capital city of God’s government of the earth. The Son of Man’s throne, and the throne of Messiah – the throne of David – will be located there. Jesus will rule and make judgments in righteousness, according to the law of God – the perfect measure of human righteousness. Mankind on the earth, including the Jews, will be man in Adam, and will still possess Adam’s fallen nature – sin in the flesh. In Adam they are still mortal, with death still being possible during the millennium for those who purposely disobey and rebel. Israel will enjoy many advantages over the Gentile nations during the millennium. One advantage not spoken of much is this: Jehovah will make a new covenant specifically with them – the saved remnant, their children, and their children after them. He will write His law, not on tablets of stone, but on their hearts and in their minds (Jer. 31:31-34, Heb. 8:6-13). By this sovereign grace they will obey the law and be physically blessed and prosper (Deut. 28:1-14). God will fulfill every promise He made to Israel’s forefathers. They will become the greatest nation on the millennial earth. The kingdom and rule of the Son of Man will be the last reign of man on the earth.
The Eternal State – When the 1000 years have expired, 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 with him will be destroyed, and he will be cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev. 20:7-10). Then we have the great white throne judgment at which 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. 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.”
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of the heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
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.
And he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall not exist any more, nor grief, nor cry, nor distress shall exist any more, for the former things have passed away.
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.
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.
He that overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be to him God, and he shall be to me son.
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 revelation describing the eternal state. This follows after the great white throne judgment found in the ending verses of the previous chapter. There is a chronology of events (a history) given, starting in Rev. 19:11 with the opening up of heaven, continuing through the millennium, and onto the white throne judgment, finishing with verse fifteen (15) of chapter twenty (20). There should be no doubt that the first eight verses above follow after the events of the previous chapter. We could say they follow chronologically 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.
From these eight verses, what may we positively say will characterize the eternal state?
1. New heaven and a new earth, with no sea (the old creation had passed away; a new creation from God)
2. The New Jerusalem, the church, as the tabernacle of God, comes down from heaven to reside on the earth.
3. 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.)
4. 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 I Cor. 15:26; 15:54-56, Rev. 21:4)
5. 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.
Now we will consider the remainder of Revelation twenty-one (21). Actually this particular passage extends through Rev. 22:5. Those men who made the chapter divisions long ago in the word were not infallible. There is a case to be made in allowing the first eight verses of chapter twenty-one (21) to be part of chapter twenty (20), in order to complete the grouping of events chronologically. This would allow chapter twenty-one (21) to begin at Rev. 21:9, and in order to include the entire portion, it should have continued to Rev. 22:5. But all the controversy with theologians and teachers centers on this passage – does Rev. 21:9-22:5 refer to the millennium or the eternal state?
First we will approach the distinctions between the two states by what I would call a common sense way of comparing scripture. Peter has a small passage in his second epistle concerning the character of the eternal state – “we…look for new heavens and a new earth wherein righteousness dwells.” (II Pet. 3:13) However, the character of the millennial state is a reign of righteousness by judgments (Ps. 9:7-8; 72:1; 94:15; 96:10-13; 97:1-12; Isa. 32:1; Jer. 23:5). In eternity there are no more judgments in righteousness, bringing in peace as in the millennium. In the eternal state righteousness exists, it dwells. It does not reign.
Also at the end of the millennium, Jesus, the Son of Man, gives up His kingdom as Man, delivering it back to God (I Cor. 15:24-28). The millennium represents the last rule of man on the earth in government. Righteousness reigns in the millennium in the kingdom of the Son of Man, a kingdom that will grow and fill the entire earth (Dan. 2:35). He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, who will reign on the earth as a King by making judgments in righteousness. During the millennium there will be other kings and kingdoms, all of which must come under subjection to the Son of Man, or face dire consequences. During the millennium there will be nations and ethnicity. Israel will be the greatest nation on the earth with the remaining Gentile nations gathered to them. But when scripture speaks directly of the eternal state, of which we find very few passages in God’s revelation, it doesn’t speak of nations. It speaks of “men” on the earth and the lack of any need for government from man – no rulers or kings or nations. But the passage in question (Rev. 21:9-22:5) speaks of kings on the earth and nations (Rev. 21:24-26; 22:2). This is one reason why this passage should be considered millennial.
In the passage we see the phrase “for the healing of the nations.” Healing will be needed during the millennium. It will not be necessary during the eternal state. Healing is needed for the miseries brought on mankind as a result of the first Adam’s sin. When sin and death came into the world, so did sickness and disease. In the millennium men on the earth will still be in Adam and fallen. But those who enter the eternal state will have sin removed from their bodies – there will be no more death (Rev. 21:4). When there is no sin in the flesh, there will be no disease.
The removal of sin from men on the earth before they enter into the eternal state implies there will be no need for government then. God instituted the principle of government with Noah in order to restrict evil and wickedness after the flood. From that time all human government has failed in its responsibility because of man’s fallen state. The millennium will be when the second Adam makes good all the failures and miseries brought in by the first Adam. We especially see from Old Testament prophecy this will be true concerning the principle of government of the earth during the millennium. Jesus, as King over all the kings that remain on the earth in the Gentile nations, will rule over them until all is brought into subjection under His feet. As Messiah He will be King of the Jews over a united Israel. Earthly Jerusalem will be the capital city of His government over the earth. Surly we can see that government is a necessary millennial condition, simply because of the continuance of the fallen Adam state in all men on the earth at that time.
The difference between the future millennial state and eternity is a matter of comprehending biblical principles and their inherent consequences of human failure. There is the principle of creature responsibility. Adam’s disobedience in the garden was a failure of his responsibility before God, his Creator. The consequence was sin coming into the world, and death with it. The sin nature, with mortality, was passed on to every man by natural birth (Rom. 5:12). This was mankind’s new fallen state. Adam and Eve were chased out of the garden and away from the presence of God. We easily see the consequences brought on by the fall of man. The time period from exiting the garden going on to the flood tells the story of what mankind brings about in his state of sin, when there is no principle of government. Man filled the earth with wickedness and violence, and God had to destroy the world that was then by a deluge (Gen. 6:5-7). With Noah coming out of the ark, the principle of government is instituted, in order to restrict man’s sin nature and its production of sins (Gen. 9:6). Yet even this newly instituted principle had to have the previous principle of human responsibility applied to it. When men are placed by God in civil authority, it does serve in a general way to curb man’s expression of his sin nature (Rom. 13:1-5). But mankind is fallen in Adam. When they are set up in civil authority by God, these kings and rulers and magistrates are still responsible to obey God. This obviously is the weak point. From Noah until now, all human government eventually fails in its responsibility before God.
How then may we view God’s principle of government in the coming millennium? It will still be the government of man, but it will not be a world government by fallen man. Jesus is not of Adam, the first man. Jesus is the second Adam, the last man (1 Cor. 15:45-47). More than this, as man He is the beginning of God’s new creation, the first born from among the dead (Col. 1:18, Rev. 1:5). He is the glorified Man sitting now at the right hand of God. When He returns to the earth He is the perfect Man, and will fulfill in perfect responsibility the principle of government of the earth during the future millennium. Jesus is the heavenly Man, and is fully qualified to bring forth in the earth heavenly rule and government – the authority and power of the kingdom of heaven. But again, this is all millennial. Government is necessary for the millennium; it is not necessary for eternity.
There is another difference between the two passages of Scripture we are considering that will help us distinguish between them. In the second one (Rev. 21:9-22:5), which I contend refers to the millennium, we find the dispensational names of God being used – the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (Rev. 21:22). In one sense, dispensations are the counting of time on the earth. The last dispensation is the millennium, described as the fullness of time (Eph. 1:10). The eternal state is not the counting of time, and therefore is not dispensational. Eternity is when God will be all in all (I Cor. 15:28). This is reflected in the description of the eternal state (Rev. 21:1-8). No dispensational names are used.
The passage we are considering should be viewed as an appendix – supplementary material being added. It is a description of the place and privilege that the church holds in Christ during the future millennium. The Holy Spirit adds it here in order to provide greater details of what He briefly spoke of in the series of chronological events (Rev. 19:7-9). Rev. 21:9 forms a clear break in the chapter; we might even say it starts a separate vision for John. This is not the only time in the book that John ends one vision and begins another. The third (3) chapter ends John’s vision of the Son of Man in the midst of the candlesticks on the earth. Chapter four begins a vision located in heaven and John going through an open door.
Also it is not the first time in the book that the Spirit adds a descriptive appendix of an interesting object or subject after that particular subject was sequenced in the historical account. God uses this ‘retrospective method’ numerous times in the book. For example, in a large passage of chronological events starting at the beginning of chapter six (6) and continuing through to near the end of chapter eleven (Rev. 11:18), we are given a condensed version of the history from the beginning of the tribulation to the great white throne judgment. In it we have a brief mention of the Roman beast (Rev. 11:7). Later on in the book we are given an appendix that describes the character of the beast in much greater detail (Rev. 13). But the appendix doesn’t stop with just details of the Roman beast, but speaks of a second beast that will be present and in partnership with the first beast and Satan during the great tribulation. The entire chapter is the Spirit’s means of describing in detail Satan’s instruments of evil he brings forth at the end.
There is another appendix in the book that furnishes characteristic details of a subject after it was mentioned previously. This one should be full of interest to us because of the similarities it has with the passage we are considering. Actually this example could be considered as two appendixes because the type involved caries a double meaning. The first appendix is found in chapter seventeen (17) and describes Mystery Babylon, the mother of harlots, and her judgment before God. The second appendix is chapter eighteen (18) and provides details of Babylon as the great city, and her judgment and destruction by God. She is first mentioned briefly as Babylon, the great city, in the six-fold testimony of God’s dealings with the earth during the tribulation period (Rev. 14) and again as the great city after the seventh bowl judgment (Rev. 16). The judgment described in chapter eighteen (18) answers to this. But the appendix giving us details of Mystery Babylon, the harlot, speaks of a corrupt ecclesiastical system (Rev. 17). The only place we have something like this described previously in the book is Jezebel of Thyatira at the end of chapter two (2). There it represents Christendom in its dominating and corrupt Roman form (the major form of Christendom from the fifth century on). Jezebel does go on to the great tribulation and finds her destruction there (Rev. 2:22). It isn’t hard to believe that later in the book the Spirit of God would provide an appendix detailing her destruction (Rev. 17). When the Roman empire made Christianity its official religion, the harlot soon climbed up on the beast and made him disappear (the beast gained a heart like a man – compare Dan. 4:15-16 with Dan. 7:4).
The similarities to the appendix we are looking at in Rev. 21:9-22:5 cannot be easily ignored. Our passage begins by the angel telling John, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” He proceeds to show him the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. We also know that the bride of Christ is the church (Eph. 5:22-32). How much these two things are the same I will leave for the Holy Spirit to impress upon you. Regardless, we see two meanings for the same phrase, “the bride of the Lamb” – Rev. 19:7-8 and Rev. 21:9-10. As we discussed earlier, there were two meanings for Babylon – one was a city and the other was an ecclesiastical entity. The same is true for the bride of the Lamb – she is a city and an ecclesiastical entity. Babylon plays the part of a false bride of Christ on the earth. The true church, the true bride of the Lamb, is heavenly, and is a heavenly body.
Please look at another similarity in how each passage begins:
Revelation 17:1 (NKJV)
“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters,”
Revelation 21:9 (NKJV)
“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”
One cannot help but think that the two passages are related in some way to each another when we read both opening verses. It shows us that the two appendixes are similar in certain discernable ways. If the first one about Mystery Babylon is retrospective (the Spirit adding details concerning her character and influence after mentioning her briefly in a previously given historical series), then it is reasonable to assume that the second passage is a retrospective appendix as well. Although Rev. 21:9-22:5 follows in the book directly after the passage about the eternal state (Rev. 21:1-8), it is not about the eternal state, nor does it belong to the same time. It is retrospective, going back to the time of the millennium (Rev. 20:1-6), giving us important details concerning the place and privilege of the church in heavenly grace and blessing from the Most High God over the earth.
Before ending, I wish to add one more thought concerning these things. It is derived from the first passage. It will be up to you to judge the thought yourself, in the light of God’s word and as the Spirit of God may reveal and teach His thoughts to any believing and seeking heart, whether it is sound. In the verses that describe the eternal state (Rev. 21:1-8) we see that the viewpoint is of “men” only on the earth. There is not a separate Israel; there are no distinct nations; all mankind that survive on the earth are made to be God’s people – “…and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” God is all in all as God for all eternity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a distinction that will always exist. God is infinitely different and distinct from man. He is infinitely transcendent above man. There is no measurement we could possibly make that would show us the difference that exists between God and man. Even though man is made in the image and likeness of God, this doesn’t make him anything different from being a creature created by God. All that the image and likeness of God does is give man his proper place in the order of God’s creation – above the animals, but a little lower than the angels. The angels are at the head of God’s first creation.
But the passage describing the eternal state shows another distinction. God is clearly distinguished from men on the earth. But the tabernacle of God, the New Jerusalem, the bride adorned for her husband, is also clearly distinguished as different from men on the earth in eternity. This is the church and its special place in Christ before God, throughout the ages and ages to come (Rev. 21:2, Eph. 2:7).