Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 41 - The Seventh Vision: The New Jerusalem (21:1-8)

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” What the apostle actually saw was the new Jerusalem, a symbolic representation of the spiritual qualities of the Kingdom of Heaven now established on earth. To Peter this new heaven and earth meant “righteousness” (2 Peter 3: 13). To Isaiah they meant Paradise restored, a gracious way of life unspoiled by human selfishness (65:17-25). But to that prophet they also meant a society dedicated to the worship and honour of God, whilst sinners receive a punishment that is not only just but also is seen to be just (65: 20, 25).


“And there was no more sea.” Since the wicked are described as being “like the troubled sea” (Isaiah 57:20), this is usually taken to mean “no more wicked.” But since the same truth is stated again a few verses further on (v. 8 and 22:15) much more fully and explicitly, it is difficult to see why such an obscure symbol should be brought in here. Two other alternatives deserve serious consideration.

Since this holy city now described is, in effect, the coming amongst men of the heavenly sanctuary so often alluded to in Revelation, the “sea” mentioned here could be the spiritual counterpart to the brazen sea, which was an essential feature of both Tabernacle and Temple of earlier days. The brazen sea was for priests on duty in the sanctuary to cleanse themselves from any defilement incidental to their activities there. Then if this city sanctuary has no “sea”, it must be because there is nothing in it to defile or hinder the fulness of service of those who are active there.

But the word “sea” has also a different connotation in Revelation. Its other meaning is best seen by listing a series of descriptions of the heavenly glory from different parts of the Bible: “And they saw the God of. Israel; and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness” (Exodus 24:10). “And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it” (Ezekiel 1: 26). “And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above” (Ezekiel 1: 22). “And before the throne was a sea of glass like unto crystal” (Revelation 4:6). “And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory ... stand on the sea of glass, having harps of God” (15:2).

A re-reading of these passages in their context makes certain that these descriptions all have to do with visions of the same heavenly glory. The last passage rules out any reference to the laver in the temple court, unless the phrase is re-translated to read: “beside the sea of glass”. But even then the other passages are hard to reconcile.

“The firmament”, “the terrible crystal”, “the sea of glass” - all seem to be descriptions of the sky, which at one time is sapphire blue, at another is shot with fire, as in a bright red sunset or stormy sunrise.

Thus the expanse of heaven is pictured here as the barrier between God and man. He is gloriously enthroned above the sky, whilst men have to be content with manifestations of heavenly glory in the cherubim who are the vehicles on earth of God’s Holy Spirit.

The conclusion follows that “no more sea” means the abolition of all space-time barriers and of all barriers of holiness between God and men: “The tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them; and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God”. Literally, the last phrase is: “And God with them (Immanuel!) shall be their God”. This is the most satisfying interpretation of all, and is more harmonious with the other allusions in Revelation (see also pp 41 and 42).


This new Jerusalem is a City and at the same time a Bride bedecked for her wedding (21:2, 9, 10). What John saw in the vision was evidently a glorious city, its ornament and splendour so rich as to suggest the exquisite adornment of a girl on her wedding day. But would the idea of such a double description have been used if it had not already been employed by the prophet Isaiah?: “Put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city” (52:1). “Thou (Zion) shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons (or, just possibly, thy Builder) marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee” (62:4, 5).


This vision of the new Jerusalem is the first of seven distinct places where the rewards promised in the Letters to the Churches are seen to be anticipations of the divine glories described in the climax of Revelation (see also Chapter 3 - The Letters To The Churches (2) (ch. 3)).

The letter to:
Its promise: To him that overcometh
The fulfillment: “he that overcometh shall inherent all things”.
I will give to eat of the tree of life (2:7).
On either side of the river was there the tree of life (22:2)
Shall not be hurt of the second death (2:11).
The lake which burneth with fire and brimstone which is the second death.
The hidden manna, a white stone, a new name which no man knoweth (2:17).
God’s name is their foreheads (22:4)
Power over the nations, rule them with a rod of iron. I will give him the morning star (2:26,28).
They shall reign for ever and ever (22:5). I am the bright and morning star (22:16)
Clothed in white raiment. I will not blot out his name out of the book of life (3:5).
A bride adorned in fine linen, clean and white (19:8).
And the books were opened, and another book which is the book of life (20:12).
I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is the new Jerusalem, even my new name (3:12).
The holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven (called THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS: Jeremiah 33:16); (21:2, 10).
To sit with my in my throne, even as I overcame and am set down with my Father in his throne (3:21).
No more curse: the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it? And his servants shall serve him (22:3).

The transcending blessedness of those who belong to, who are, this heavenly metropolis on earth is described in two ways, in both of which repetition takes the place of emphasis and explanation:

“Behold, the tabernacle[82] of God is with men,

and he will dwell (tabernacle) with them,

and they shall be his people,

and God himself shall be with them,

and be their God.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes and

no more shall there be death,

neither sorrow,

nor crying,

neither shall there be any more pain

for the former things are passed away.”


What the dwelling of God with His immortal saints will mean in terms of personal experience is evidently past the powers of even a mighty angel or an inspired apostle to put into words. That which devout souls have craved and reached out for in the days of their weakness will become a normal everyday experience, a satisfying never-ceasing reality, like the warmth of sunshine on the wings of a butterfly newly-emerged from its chrysalis.

And the new and higher faculties with which the redeemed will find themselves endowed will be such as cannot be described in terms of present experience. Even this divine Apocalypse has to be content with a description in terms of the negation of every present tribulation. All this - death, sorrow, crying, pain - will be anointed out by the balm of God’s Holy Spirit, by the gift of personal immortality, and by the transcending experience of His own very Presence.

Time and again in this Revelation the Holy Spirit gropes for ways of making known the marvels of blessings to come, which present limitations bar the reader from understanding. The new Jerusalem is pictured as a city in which the length and breadth and height are equal (21:16). This is no human metropolis. It has had another dimension added to it. The song that the redeemed sing is one which none can learn save these who share the fellowship of the Lamb on mount Zion (14:1, 3). The new name received by “him that overcometh” can be learned only by “him that receiveth it” (2:I7).

It is not inconceivable that, added to the main comprehensible fact of immortality, there will be unlocked in the minds of the redeemed other faculties which have remained shut up and atrophied in the brain ever since a curse was put on the human race in Eden. Experts say that there are considerable areas of the human brain without any known function. And from time to time certain “freak” individuals have been known to possess startling and altogether abnormal mental powers and perceptions. Can it be that these are hints of possibilities to be unlocked in a glorious day when servants of the Lord step out into a work of fuller endowment such as they have hardly suspected the existence of?


A man who is colour-blind lives almost completely without appreciation of much of the loveliness of Nature or the world of art. One who is tone-deaf is shut out of a realm, which he knows exists for others but which, in this life, he can never enjoy. For him a Brahms symphony is just a long boring noise; and he would enjoy a Bach chorale just as well recited as sung. Such individuals know that there is something in life which they are missing and which no amount of effort and education can make good. But one day, by the grace of God, the first will stand in awe at the fiery splendour of a stormy sunrise or be charmed into speechlessness by the harmonies of colour in a Scottish glen, and the other will revel in the timbre of horn and ‘cello, and glory in his new-found ability to sing hymns by the hour to the God of his new creation. Then what of the man who comes from blindness to sight? And what must be the ecstatic shock to one who hears for the first time7

Imagine, then, for those blessed with a call to the marriage supper of the Lamb a like transformation even less susceptible of translation into words, because as yet outside the experience of all save Christ. Is it possible to conceive the addition of some sixth sense, some extra-sensory perception? What will it mean to move into a world of more than three dimensions? Even the Book of Revelation cannot describe these things in terms which present human limitation can grasp. All it can do is to say: All experience which you know now to be a disability will become only a painless memory, perhaps not even that. It can only tell of a city in which the height is fully equal to the length and breadth, of a song which no man can sing now, try as he will, of a new name not to be disclosed until the day when Christ bestows it.


“Write”, commands the voice, “for these things are true and faithful”. Three times (or is it four?) there is an instruction of this sort (14:13; 19:9; 21:5; 22:6, 10). It can only mean that, out of all the vitally important revelations made in this book, these are specially and outstandingly important. The phrase “true and faithful” implies the sure fulfilment of the ancient promises of God (see Chapter 37). That which the great voice had just spoken from heaven (v. 3, 4) assuredly involved this. It was now expressed in the most emphatic and comforting way possible.


“It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega.” Now, the sharing of the fountain of the water of life to his redeemed is the consummation of Messiah’s work. He who is “the Beginning of the Creation of God” (3:14) perfects his work in the ultimate spiritual satisfaction of those who overcome through him. Now he is not only Alpha but also Omega, “the First One and with the Last Ones” (Isaiah 41: 4). During the time of their pilgrimage he has saved them in hunger and thirst and hardship. But now all the springs and fountains (Isaiah 49:10; Revelation 7:16, 17) which have hitherto met their need become one mighty stream, inexhaustibly satisfying - a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb (22: 1).

In bygone days the prophet of the Lord had had to make urgent impassioned appeal to men to recognize their own best path of self-interest by their own personal appropriation of “the sure mercies of David”: “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1). It is a remarkable passage which, when properly read, offers water and bread somehow transformed into wine and fatness of a quality which no human wealth can purchase. Yet men hesitate to accept the heavenly offer. They would rather spend their money for that which is “not bread” and give their labour for what leaves them still hungry and thirsty.

True in Isaiah’s day, it was also a prophecy of the matchless appeal of the Son of God to a nation, which took only a year or two to decide that it wanted to have nothing to do with him. Six months before they delivered him to death, at the most impressive public moment of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus made a dramatic appeal to the vast crowd of worshippers assembled there: “If any man thirst, let him come unto me: he that believeth on me, let him drink ... as the Scripture hath said” (John 7: 37, 38). But the nation turned away, and has been thirsty ever since.

Yet still the divine gift is available, though only the Lord’s remnant, faithful and true, have appetite for it. These know, even now, the refreshing of the fountain of water of life. They enjoy it now in abundance and freely, “without money and without price,” - for it is not to be bought, even with the highest human effort. This experience serves to slake present thirst, but also-by a strange divine paradox - to accentuate it, until the day when the river of water of life brings the supreme satisfaction - water not only to drink but to bathe in, and rejoice.


What Scripture has said time and again in winsome figure is now repeated in solemn simple emphasis. “He that overcometh shall inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” Here is the reality behind all the figures of speech. How often does the child of God yearn for a clearer vision of the Divine, for a deeper God-consciousness amid the pathetic trivialities of everyday life: “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” This is the day of small things. Revelation promises a fulness, adequate appreciation of which can only be groped after as one sanctified figure of speech after another is pondered: “the tabernacle of God ... He will dwell with them ... God shall wipe away all tears ... the water of life freely ... I will be his God, and he shall be my son”.

The last phrase here represents the ultimate fulfilment of the New Covenant, but in place of Jeremiah’s “they shall be my people” is the far more intimate “He shall be my son”. God’s law is written in human hearts, and all know Him, from the least to the greatest.


How solemn is the contrast in which an eight-fold[83] catalogue of those raised for judgement arraigns the rejected now condemned to the second death! First in this list are the fearful and unbelieving. Some wonder that the former of these should be included in such an enumeration of human vices. Yet it has its rightful place. Fear of contingencies or human adversaries is forbidden to the disciple of Christ. “Fear ye not therefore,” said Jesus to the twelve (Matthew 10:26, 28, 31). He was giving a commandment, not just well-meant advice. On reflection, how evident it is that fear is a sin; for it carries with it the assumption that there are powers of evil in the world, which God cannot cope with. It assumes that Jesus did not mean what he said when he exhorted: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:29, 30).

The special conjunction here with “unbelief” shews, however, that the warning in Revelation is primarily for those who are fearful of the duties and consequences of discipleship. This is the man who says: “I couldn’t live the life”. This is he who has at the back of his mind the uncomfortable query: “What will my friends and colleagues think about me?” These spineless attitudes spell fear in large capitals. They signpost the way to a gehenna of fire, a second and very long-lasting death.

The unbeliever who travels the road to a similar destiny is not the poor fool of an atheist or even the blinded patron of religious orthodoxy. He is the man who sees and knows the Truth in Christ, recognizing it for what it is, but who nevertheless prefers his life of worldly ambition to humble striving for the approval of Christ. Or maybe he would rather relax in selfish laziness or easy worldliness than bestir himself in the cause of the kingdom of God. The fearful and the unbelieving belong together.

The next group - the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters - have to be understood against the background of the world, which John belonged to; for the Apocalypse was for the First Century, as well as the Twentieth. All of these were almost commonplace members of the society to which the apostles preached, and have already achieved respectability once again in these Last Days. But today the real scope of these words is in the kind of application such as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Hatred is murder, lust is adultery, eager wealth gathering is idolatry, Jesus said. Would he also have agreed that wire pulling is sorcery?

Last in the catalogue - a dubious honour! - come “all liars”. The mischief has been theirs from the first. And to this day “speaking lies in hypocracy” (1 Timothy 4:2), they still persuade that “ye shall not surely die.” Not only with this greatest out-and-out falsehood, but in a score of ways they lie by insinuation: “Yea, hath God said...?” Did He really say this? “Where is the promise of his coming?” Where, indeed? In the Bible! But who takes the Bible seriously today? If that is where his coming is promised, why take that seriously either? “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?” (1 John 2:22).

All such, who nurse atheism in their hearts, and foster it in the hearts of others, will also know the second death, the utter destruction that a lake of fire aptly symbolizes.


There is, perhaps, another reason for the use of this graphic figure. Not that there is here any hint of eternal torments - that enthusiasm of the onetime hot-gospeller - for even death and hell are themselves to be cast into the lake of fire (20:14). Fire not only consumes utterly, it also sears with terrible torture in the process. So it may be that the real punishment of those rejected by the great Judge of all will be what they experience before the blackness of the darkness of the aions overpowers them. For a man to live just long enough into the kingdom of Christ to be able to realize and appreciate what he has thrown away through his own wilfulness, selfishness, or lack of faith, would probably be as fitting a divine rebuke as he could possibly receive. For such a man to see the blessedness of the saints in Christ and to reproach himself: “Fool, fool, fool,” that such a heavenly gift should have been spurned for the tawdry satisfactions of a world that is passing away, seems to be altogether fitting. “The sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.” To such every year, which he lives amidst the transcending spiritual blessings of Christ’s kingdom, will be a year of greater misery and curse. What a contrast with those for whom all things are made new!

Regarding these who are the subjects of the Holy Spirit’s searing censure in this place, one further question requires to be answered: Are these who are so roundly condemned unworthy baptized believers or unbaptized rejectors of Christ? One thing regarding them is certain - they are among those who rise from the dead, for they experience the second death, that is they die a second time. Is it possible to believe that this frightening list of fearful, unbelievers, abominable, murderers, whoremongers, sorcerers, idolaters and liars describe those who have been blessed with the fellowship of Christ? Some perhaps; but is it not evident that many of these must belong to the class of those who know the Truth and who yet turn their backs on it, preferring the comfortable evil of the world to the austerity of a life of faith in Christ?

[82] Why “tabernacle” when one would expect the word “temple” or some other suggestion of permanence?
[83] Eight is always the number of resurrection and a new beginning. Appropriate here?
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