Summary: John’s vision of heaven’s capital includes several features: 1) Its General Appearance (Revelation 21:9–11), 2) Exterior Design (Revelation 21:12–21a), 3) Internal Character (Revelation 21:21b–27)
A nice practice that we usually have here at the start of every month is wishing those celebrating a birthday in the month, happy birthday. As happy as those well wishes are, it can be bitter-sweet when we recall those who have left. The Bothwell’s just celebrated such a special birthday over their first child, Benjamin. Had he survived infancy, he would now be 17. The hope and consolation for the Bothwell’s and for all those who have had loved ones die in Christ, is the promise from Scripture, to see them again in Heaven.
Just as a person preparing to travel to a foreign country desires information about that country, so believers long for a glimpse of that glorious place where they will live eternally. Knowing their eager sense of anticipation, God has provided believers with a description of heaven. Though only a select few details are given, they are staggering, mind-boggling, and overwhelming.
As the vision of the New Jerusalem unfolds, history has ended, and time is no more. John and his readers are transported to the eternal state. Having described the fearful eternal destination of the damned, the lake of fire (v. 8; 20:14–15), the vision takes the beloved, exiled apostle to the blissful eternal resting place of the redeemed. Because it is the capital city of heaven and the link between the new heaven and the new earth, the New Jerusalem is central to the vision and is described in far more detail than the rest of the eternal state.
1) Its General Appearance (Revelation 21:9–11)
Revelation 21:9-11 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (ESV)
As the vision opened, an angel appeared to call John’s attention to the city. Angels play a significant role in Revelation, and this particular angel was involved in the Great Tribulation judgments. Those judgments unfolded in three telescoping series: the seal, trumpet, and, climactically, the bowl judgments. This angel was one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues (cf. 15:1). Either he or another of those seven angels also introduced the impending judgment of the harlot city of Babylon (17:1), making the contrast between the two cities apparent.
Inaugurating John’s personal tour of heaven’s capital city, the angel came and spoke to the apostle, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” Chapter 21:2 notes how the New Jerusalem is described as a bride because it draws its character from its occupants. Those occupants consist of the bride of the Lamb, a title originally given to the church (19:7), but now enlarged to encompass all the redeemed of all the ages, who live there forever. The New Jerusalem is likened to a bride because the redeemed are forever united to God and the Lamb. It is further defined as the wife of the Lamb because the marriage has taken place (19:7).
John’s incredible vision began when the angel, as it now says in verse 10, carried him away in the Spirit. When he received the visions that comprise the book of Revelation, the aged apostle was a prisoner of the Romans on the island of Patmos (1:9). But he was transported from there in an amazing spiritual journey to see what unaided human eyes could never see. John’s visions were not dreams, but spiritual realities, like those Paul saw when he was also caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2–4).
The first stop was a great and high mountain. From that vantage point, the angel showed John the holy city, Jerusalem. The new Jerusalem is called holy, which means that the city has been consecrated by God as a place without sin; in other words, it is perfect in every respect…At one time in human history, people started building the tower of Babel to reach heaven, but God frustrated their efforts (Gen. 11:1–9). By contrast, God now takes the initiative to bring the new Jerusalem down to earth. It is the city of God that descends to earth, not human beings who decide to link their city to heaven. The old Jerusalem ravaged by sin could no longer be called holy after the death of Jesus (11:2). The new Jerusalem is free from sin and resumes the name the holy city (Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Book of Revelation: NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY BAKER BOOKS. Grand Rapids, MI 2001).