“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1).
The first heaven and the first earth is the old covenant, the old creation. When Christ came, he ushered in a new heaven and a new earth, which is the church.
In the church age, there is no more sea, that is, no more Gentiles. The Jew/Gentile distinction of the old covenant has been destroyed by Christ. Remember that the sea was the temporary boundary between heaven and earth set up on the second day of creation (cf. Gen 1:6-8)
“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).
John sees the New Jerusalem descending from heaven. What is the New Jerusalem? Compare this language that John uses with that of Hebrews 12:22-23.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-23).
The author of Hebrews emphatically describes the church as
• Mount Zion
• the city of the living God
• the heavenly Jerusalem
Thus, when John describes the “New Jerusalem” as a bride adorned for her husband, we should not hesitate to understand that the New Jerusalem is the church (cf. 20:9ff).
In history, the New Jerusalem is in the process of descending from heaven. The church spreads and the kingdom of God comes to earth. At the end of history, the New Jerusalem comes decisively when Christ unites heaven and earth.
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said 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 of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death’” (Revelation 21:3-8).
Believers will be comforted by God and given the water of life. Unbelievers are sent to the lake of fire, the second death.
“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.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:9-10).
John sees the bride, the Lamb’s wife, and she is described as “the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.”
“Having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass” (Revelation 21:11-21).
This is a metaphorical description of the beauty of the church at the second coming of Christ. Much of this parallels the temple-city that Ezekiel wrote about in Ezekiel 40-48.
“But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Revelation 21:22-27).
This seems to be a description of eternity. There is no need for the sun or moon because Christ will be our light. Only the saved nations and the undefiled are present. This description continues in the next chapter.