The Eternal City: A Real Place? What will it be like?

Via Wikimedia Commons cc 2.0

Is there really life after death?  Or is this life all there is?  It’s a question that we ignore, we toss aside, and eventually ponder.  It’s a question that draws out fear and emotional outrage.  It’s a question that affects how we live and what we live for.

Could there really be an eternal city, coming out of heaven, where humanity will live in the next life?  I believe that there is just such a place.

Our universe is a very interesting place.  Have you ever breezed through photos taken by the Hubble telescope?  Or looked at photos taken by molecular biologists of cells in the human body?  Have you looked up at the stars and the moon and wondered at the harmonious complexity of our world?  I know I have done those things.

Have you watched the hummingbird meander effortlessly through the air buzzing at breakneck speeds from flower to flower injecting it’s beak into the nectar simultaneously feeding itself and cross-pollinating plants?

Have you contemplated the breadth of time from eternity to eternity?  Have you considered the factors necessary for the survival of a species?  Indeed, these things are spell-binding.  They cry out for an intelligence beyond our frame of physical reference with the ability to care for our souls past death.

The eternal city is indeed a real place.  And there are requirements we must meet to enter that place.  These requirements are most certainly moral in nature.  After all we as humans think and live in moral terms.  We look for justice, mercy, love, forgiveness, and judgment.  We know intuitively that abstract ideas, like good and evil, are rooted in fixed reality.  We know that good and evil are real.

All of these things led to my realization that God is in fact real.  And that there is an eternal city beyond our existence on Earth.  The very last book of the book tells us about it.  It’s a book titled “Revelation.”  Revelation means, “the revealing.”  It is truly, a fascinating read.

This eternal city, which is the future of the human race, is discussed in good detail in Revelation.  And if in fact this city is a future reality, then the implications are indeed far-reaching.  It changes everything about everything, as far as considering the meaning of life.  If this eternal city is indeed an eternal city, in which humanity will reside not for a mere 75 to 100 years, but for millions of years, and billions of years, and trillions of years, then this life is nothing but a dim window, a mere 1% of the 99% reality that awaits us in the future.

For the God who names himself in the scriptures as “I am who I am” such a future is not too hard.  What in fact would be too hard for a God with no beginning or end?  I AM WHO I AM is a statement of God’s otherness in fact.  God is not like us in most respects.  He is beyond our full comprehension.  This is a terribly difficult thing to accept.  But as Da Vinci said, only a fool would not be willing to admit that there are some realities beyond his comprehension.  That is why the fallacy of “Who created God?” is so amusing.  By definition, if God could be created, then He wouldn’t be God.  He’d be man.  We think in these finite terms: Who created God?  God answers this question in his title: I am who I am.  I am not like you.  I am beyond the past, and beyond the future.  In fact, God created time itself.  We must allow for our finite ability to comprehend eternity.  Given that, we can however still consider many aspects of this reality of the eternal city.

Revelation chapter twenty, from the most hated book in history, banned in approximately 60 countries, the Bible, which simple means “The Book” we get a glimpse of our future as a species.  The mind repels against it, preferring a future of human glory, yet something within us tells us it’s true.

“I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:1-6)

At a future date in time, that which we are unaware of, things will get very troubled on Earth.  They are in fact rather troubled right now, but nothing compared to what it will be in the end.  At the consummation of these dark events, evil will be defeated, and Jesus Christ will reign on Earth for 1,000 years. And so will his people.
Fascinating stuff.  We don’t really know what will occur during this 1,000 year period, but it’s clear that the eternal city hasn’t been established yet.  The new heavens and the new Earth haven’t come yet.  There seems to be a period of Christ reigning on Earth with his tribulation saints, and at the end of the 1,000 years there is a final rebellion against Christ and his people when Satan is released a second time.  During this engagement, armies surround the holy city, which is most likely referring to Jerusalem in present day Israel.  And the city is surrounded by enemy armies, probably involving nations deceived by the return of Satan.  The enemy army is destroyed by God, and Christ’s final victory is completed.
Then we have an event called the great white throne judgment.  This is where God’s people are crowned with glory and given their inheritance, and also, where God’s enemies are judged according to how they lived, and sentenced to disconnection from God for eternity.
Revelation 21 and 22 is what we want to focus on today.  That’s where we see the creation of the new heavens and the new Earth.
A lot of people are deathly afraid of touching this part of the Bible.  And I think it’s because there are so many wacko birds out there.  They go absolutely nutty about the end times, and scare people out of their minds with dates, times, predictions, locations, and of course the ever-increasing list of those who must be “the anti-christ.”  Who have made that list?  Names like Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and of course the last few Popes. I recall one pastor indicated in one of his sermons that he’d met 39 people who had claimed to be one of the “two witnesses” in Revelation chapter 11.  (On a side note some have suggested that the two witnesses could be Moses and Elijah.  It’s a fair speculation, has some evidence to back it up, but it’s just theory.)
Many church organizations and leaders, like the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah Witnesses have claimed to “know the date” of when Christ will return, and time and again, they were proven wrong.  That really has to be an awkward day after, don’t you think?  Well, we’ve got the date, here it comes… oh.  Well, anyway…  I guess we miscalculated there. Awkward!
But I think if we set aside all the wacky predictions and money-making “end times” extravaganzas and just look at what the text says, we can find a true blessing from God in the last few chapters of Revelation.  It is a book of the Bible, so we shouldn’t avoid it, we should study it, and accept it as true events.  But as always, I will add that you should check the word for yourself, if anything I write does not jive with the word of God, then you should disregard what I’ve said, and trust the word of God.  It has been preserved through history, and will not lead you astray.

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.””

-Revelation 21:1-5
If I may translate for you, I believe what it’s saying here is that the old universe, the universe we exist in right now, the milky way, and all the surrounding galaxies will be removed by God, and remade into a perfected form.  Remember the universe we exist in right now is in a “fallen” state.  It’s messed up by sin, fragmented and unsustainable.  What this new universe will be like?  It’s hard to say.  I doubt we could fully comprehend it.  But I’m sure it will be beautiful, and awe inspiring.  I’ve studied numerous artistic depictions of what the new heavens and new earth might be like, they all utterly fail to project anything near what it will actually be like.  And I understand why.  It’s just so far beyond us to consider a perfect reality.  Perfection is so far removed from what we see around us and within ourselves, don’t you think?
Within this new universe, there will also be a new Earth.  That’s right, a physical Earth.  We will not be floating like spirits in the cloud of heaven.  We are not destined to live in heaven.  We are destined to live on the new Earth, specifically in a city called the New Jerusalem.  So remember that, no clouds, no harps, no halos, that doesn’t sound particularly appealing or logical after all, clouds can’t be stood upon.  So no, the Bible says a city called the New Jerusalem.
Now allow me to blow your mind completely regarding this city.  Remember the Bible says this, so we must believe it.  I’ve told people and they say “well I don’t know, I’ve been taught other things.”  Well, I’m just telling you what the Bible says, and I’m gonna stick with the word.  You do what you like.  Anyway.
The New Jerusalem, is a giant city in the same shape as the OT tabernacle from the time of Moses.  The city is in fact in the shape of a giant cube (Revelation 21:16-17.) Just like the Borg from Star Trek.  Just kidding.  Honestly though, why did I have to discover this for myself in the text?  It’s right there in Revelation 21.  Yet I had never heard this before, until I actually read it myself.  It just goes to show you folks, read the word for yourself, but don’t just read it, study it slowly verse by verse and don’t rely on what you’ve been told, rely on what’s actually in there.
Absolutely fascinating stuff!  It says the city shines with the glory of God.  I don’t know exactly what that means, but from time to time I’ve had tiny glimpses of the glory of God in my own life, and let me tell you, I wish I could live in those moments.  They are just wonderful.  They come too abruptly and end too quickly.
The massiveness of this city in quite revealing.  It’s about 1,400 miles.  About the distance from Seattle, WA to Minneapolis, MI.  The New Jerusalem is that wide AND long in a square shape.  So about the size of 3/4 of the United States just as the base.  But remember it’s also 1,400 miles tall.  Absolutely amazing.
There are three gates on each side of the city, with a total of twelve gates.  Each gate entrance is carved out of one massive pearl.  There are twelve foundations to the city, each made of a different kind of rare jewel.  (Revelation 21:19-21.)   God is an artist.  An artist not only of the materials provided, but of the materials themselves.  Remember he designed each of these jewels from scratch.  Or as the story is told, an atheist came to God and said,”Making things isn’t so hard. I bet I could take dirt and make life.”  And God replied,”Well alright, go ahead and try.”  So the atheist went down into the sand and began to fuddle around.  And God quickly replied,”Hold on now, get your own sand.”
Running through the center of the city is a “great street” made of transparent gold (v.21) There is no temple in the city, no tabernacle, in fact from the shape of the city we can see that the city itself is the tabernacle; in other words, the very throne of God is the city itself (v.22)  The ‘holy of holies’ where the true presence of God resides is the city itself.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” -Revelation 22:1-5

So from the throne of God which must reside within the city flows this river of the water life down the middle of the streets of the city.  So we see a great street of gold, it must be a very wide street, and down the middle of the street is this river of the water of life.  This giant tree, the tree of life is at the end of the street apparently, or perhaps at the center, bearing twelve crops of fruit.  Fascinating.  There is a lot of metaphor here.  Christ is the river that leads us to the holy city.  Christ, given by God, leads us to the tree of life, where we eat of the gift of eternal life, that which Adam lost for us in the garden long ago.  This is done a great deal in the scriptures.  Real events, and real places carry additional meaning.  It’s quite an elegant way for God to describe reality.  He uses real events to depict things, and through these real events he also describes spiritual truths.

“Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.” -Revelation 22:10-11

God instructed John not to hide what was written in Revelation, and in the same way today I believe we are called to share with others the words of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.  I truly believe and know that these events will come to pass.  All of this will happen just as God has described it.

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

-Revelation 22:12-17
It’s a lot to take in.  It really is.  But it’s an amazing look at a beautiful future.  The implications are far reaching.  I think the most practical application of these truths is this: How we live today matters.  It matters in light of eternity.  It matters in light of the future destiny of the human race.  Blessed are those who wash their robes.  How does one wash their robe? By coming to Jesus Christ, the one whom God has given to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Christ gives us the right to the eternal life found at the tree of life, the holy grail of life everlasting.  Christ is the cure to death itself.  So like the Spirit, Christ, and the bride say, I also say to you: Come!  Let the one who is thirsty come.  I am so thirsty. I’m so thirsty for righteousness in those broken world, I’m so thirsty for justice in this troubled world, and I’m so thirsty for peace in my own troubled soul.  If your like me, thirsty like me, I am telling you the truth, you are thirsty for Jesus Christ.  I am thirsty for this great, glorious future where all things are made new, including me. Are you thirsty?
Close up of Nebula Via Wikimedia Commons cc 2.0
God’s Glory of Creation Via Wikimedia Commons cc 2.0

Additional Articles:

  1. The Return of Jesus Christ & the New Jerusalem
  2. What will the New Universe be like?
  3. Origin, Meaning, Morality, & Destiny: An atheist and a Christian on discuss Worldview
  4. Seven Objections to the Bible and Seven Reasonable Responses
  5. Quick Fact Sheet: Four Points to Consider
  6. 10 Answers to Common Questions Raised by Skeptics
  7. Believing in the Miraculous: The Work of Jesus Christ on the Cross
  8. Can you see through the illusion?
  9. Philosophy, Science, Logic, and History: Presentations on the Truth of Christianity from Multiple Disciplines
  10. No Evidence for God?
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