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Know the Whole Story
Many people know some stories from the Bible, but not how the narrative fits together. The Bible is one story that begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through points to Jesus Christ. Open is your guided journey through this powerful, life-transforming story.
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The New Heaven and the New Earth

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place1 of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,2 and God himself will be with them as their God.3 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

The New Jerusalem

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.” 10 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, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia.4 Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits5 by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.

The River of Life

22:1 Then the angel6 showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life7 with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Jesus Is Coming

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”

10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes,8 so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.9 Amen.

Footnotes

[1] 21:3 Or tabernacle
[2] 21:3 Some manuscripts peoples
[3] 21:3 Some manuscripts omit as their God
[4] 21:16 About 1,380 miles; a stadion was about 607 feet or 185 meters
[5] 21:17 A cubit was about 18 inches or 45 centimeters
[6] 22:1 Greek he
[7] 22:2 Or the Lamb. In the midst of the street of the city, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life
[8] 22:14 Some manuscripts do his commandments
[9] 22:21 Some manuscripts all the saints

(ESV)

Overview

The question of where you will spend eternity is more important than any other issue you will ever face. The whole of the Bible story is about how God has opened the way into everlasting life through Jesus Christ for all who will come to Him in repentance and faith.

Think about the way a pearl necklace hangs from a woman’s neck. It falls and then it rises so that the first and last pearls in the string sit next to each other, divided only by the clasp. When the clasp is undone and the necklace is stretched out, the first and last pearls seem far apart, but when they are joined, they are brought close together.

The Bible story begins in a garden, ends in a city, and all the way through it points to Jesus Christ. The garden and the city may seem a long way apart. But like the pearls on a necklace, God has brought them together.

The Bible begins with God creating the heavens and the earth. It will end with God creating a new heaven and a new earth. Everything Adam lost will be restored and much more besides.

A New Heaven and a New Earth
The book of Revelation depicts a vision given to the Apostle John: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1).

“New” means that it will be wonderfully different. “Earth” means that it will be strangely familiar. The destiny of the Christian believer is not a dreamlike existence in another world. God will reshape, replenish, and renew this planet (Romans 8:21).

The joys of the new heaven and earth are beyond anything we can imagine, but God uses three wonderful pictures to give us a glimpse of what lies ahead for His people. They are the city, the bride, and the garden.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem
At this point in John’s vision, history as we know it has been brought to a close. Baghdad, Bangkok, Beijing, Cairo, Calcutta, Chicago, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, London, and Moscow are all gone! The earth has been laid bare in the fervent heat of God’s judgment (2 Peter 3:10).

But now John sees a new city coming down from heaven, and he immediately recognizes its skyline: “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2). Jerusalem is full of significance in the Bible story. This was the place where God came down to meet with His people when the cloud of His presence filled the temple.

The new Jerusalem was absolutely vast! An angel “measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia” (21:16). Twelve thousand stadia is about one thousand four hundred miles, the distance from New York to Houston. Its length was equal to its width, so the area covered by the city would be about three-quarters the size of America.

God’s redeemed people are more than anyone could number, and God was communicating that He has a vast city for this vast crowd. He has a place for every one of His people.

The measurements of the city are given in three dimensions. “Its length and width and height are equal” (21:16). In other words, it is a perfect cube.

John would have seen the significance of this immediately. The Most Holy Place in the temple, where God met with His people, was also a perfect cube—thirty feet long, thirty feet wide, and thirty feet high (1 Kings 6:20).

The old city of Jerusalem had a holy place where the presence of God came down. The new city is a holy place where God’s presence will remain. In the old Jerusalem, just one room was filled with the glory of God. In the new Jerusalem, the whole city will be filled with His glory, and a vast crowd of men and women will live in the joy of God’s presence forever (Revelation 21:3).

The Bride and the Prostitute
No one picture is sufficient to convey the glory of what God has in store for His people. As the picture of the city faded, John saw the image of a bride. It must have been like a hologram in which one image changes to another: “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2).

The book of Revelation is like a tale of two cities, both represented by women. Earlier, John saw the city of Babylon (Revelation 18), reminding us that throughout human history, man has continued to defy God as he did at the Tower of Babel. The defiant city is represented by the image of a prostitute.

But now John sees the new Jerusalem, and this city is represented by the image of a bride. There is all the difference in the world. The prostitute sells herself; the bride gives herself. The prostitute is motivated by greed; the bride is motivated by love.

Picture the shocking contrast between these two women: In John’s vision, the prostitute sits on a garbage heap, destitute and filthy. Unclean birds fly around her head, and her soul has become a haunt for evil spirits (18:2–3). She has memories of heady days when she was the desire of rich and famous men, but nobody wants her now.

But the bride is about to begin her procession. She is dressed in white, and her face is radiant. Ahead of her waits One who loves her more than words can tell. She steps forward to the sound of trumpets, and knows that this is her moment of destiny.

The bride and the prostitute give us a picture of the eternal destiny of every person who has ever lived. Your eternal destiny will either be one of delight or of desolation. It will either be everlasting love or everlasting loss. There is nothing in between.

Paradise Restored
Up to this point in the vision, John saw the new Jerusalem from the outside. But now he is invited to come in. As he enters, the picture changes again: “The angel showed me the river of the water of life … also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month” (22:1–2).

Again, John would have immediately seen the significance. The Bible story began in a garden, but paradise was lost and now it is restored. This new paradise will be more glorious than the one Adam lost.

At the beginning of the Bible story, we discovered four gifts that made the lives of our first parents rich in the Garden of Eden. Now, at the end, the same gifts are restored and surpassed in God’s new garden city. God’s people enjoy (1) the paradise He has created, (2) the work they are given, (3) the friendship of others, and (4) the presence of God.

Let’s take a moment to consider the joys of this new paradise.

1. Enjoying the garden
The most significant difference between God’s new garden and the old Garden of Eden is that there is no Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Evil can no longer be known there. The new garden is free not only from its presence but even from its possibility.

God’s people have access to the Tree of Life which bears twelve different crops of fruit, ready to be picked every month. The variety of fruit speaks of the riches of life, continually replenished in the presence of God. Eternity will never be dull.

The pleasures of God’s new garden city will surpass anything Adam knew in the Garden of Eden. You will savor fruits that Adam never tasted and enjoy pleasures Eve never knew.

2. Enjoying your work
In the first garden, Adam served God by ruling over the animal kingdom. The animals came to Adam to be named, and he stood in authority over them. But when the serpent came, Adam did not maintain his rule. But now God’s people are restored to a position of serving and reigning: “His servants will worship him … and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:3, 5).

Thankfully, this does not mean that we will all have jobs in government administration! When John says that we will reign, he is telling us that our lives will be ordered and our work will be completely transformed. You will no longer be subject to the tyranny of time, tedious tasks, contentious colleagues, or meddling managers. Your working life will be free from frustration, and you will find joy in all that God gives you to do.

3. Enjoying other people
John saw twelve entrances to the new garden city: “On the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates” (Revelation 21:13). People were coming into the city from every direction. There will be people from China in the East, Russia in the North, Africa in the South, Europe and America in the West.

The old Eden was enjoyed by just two people, but John saw a vast crowd that no one could number streaming into the paradise of God. These people, drawn from diverse backgrounds, have been made one in Jesus Christ. They belong together and share the same eternal home.

4. Enjoying the presence of God
God’s presence in this city is its greatest blessing: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face” (Revelation 22:3–4).

Not even Moses was given the privilege of seeing the face of God. It was impossible to see the Lord and live. Even John the Apostle found the dazzling light of the throne of God to be overwhelming, but now God’s people are able to live in His presence. We will see His face.

God is gathering a vast community of people who will live in His presence and enjoy Him forever. The Lord announces this with a note of triumph: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (21:3).

The Bible ends with an open invitation: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ … And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).

The Spirit and the bride invite you to come. The bride is the church, and it is my privilege, on her behalf, to invite you. The Lord Jesus Christ offers everlasting life to you, but you must come and receive what He offers.

The Holy Spirit also says, “Come.” God wants you to enjoy the heaven He has prepared. Jesus Christ died to open these gates for you, and His Spirit invites you to come.

I’m grateful that my wife, Karen, enjoys putting photo albums together. They are a wonderful record of our lives. We experience life in different places at different moments in time. When I look through the photograph album, I remember, “Yes, I was there then.” Right now you are in a particular place at a moment in time. You know yourself to be here. The moment will come when you will know yourself to be there. And when you are there in the presence of the Lord, you will be there forever.

  1. How did the glimpse of the city change your thinking about heaven?
  2. What was your reaction to the picture of the bride and the prostitute?
  3. Which of the four joys of the garden are most attractive to you right now? Why?
  4. Respond to this statement: “No one picture is sufficient to convey the glory of what God has in store for His people.”
  5. Do you think God wants you to enjoy the heaven that He has prepared? Why or why not?
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