I am sure many Americans who visit our capital city,Washington, DC, are as impressed as I was when they view its magnificent structures and monuments. A walk down the Federal Mall, going past the Art Institute and Smithsonian Institution, the towering Washington Monument, the majestic White House, and standing finally in a moment of reflection at the Lincoln Memorial is a thrilling experience. As Americans we can be proud, in the right sense of the word, of our national capital! It ranks with the great cities of the world—London, Paris, Tokyo, or Rome—in beauty and splendor.
Yet, every Christian is a citizen of a heavenly city— a city more dazzling and beautiful than anyone on earth has ever seen. Its streets shimmer with gold and its jeweled walls and foundations glow in a spectrum of color.We are told that it is free from evil of all kinds, and nothing in it will ever tarnish or decay.
You see, a day is coming when our present solar system will be burned with fire and will be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth. Peter wrote:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up (2 Pet. 3:10).
According to this prophecy, our universe will be shattered with a mighty roaring sound. It will burst into flames with such intense heat that even the elements that make up matter will be dissolved. The sun, the moon, the planets, and the distant stars will all be engulfed in flame, but this will not be a tragedy. It will not mean annihilation but transformation.
The Word of God declares that out of the ruins will emerge a glorious new world—our eternal home. The apostle John saw it in a vision, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit described the scene:
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. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:1-2).
The New Jerusalem, which John proceeded to describe, will rest upon the great planet that will come into existence. This holy city that comes down will be the capital of the new heaven and new earth. It is called the “New Jerusalem” to distinguish it from the two other Jerusalems mentioned in the Bible—the earthly city still in Palestine today and the “heavenly Jerusalem” of Hebrews 12. (The heavenly Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem are actually the same city, but seen at different stages of redemptive history.)
Let’s now consider three aspects of this heavenly city, the eternal home of the redeemed: (1) its present location, (2) its place in the coming millennial reign of Christ, and (3) its external appearance as it comes down to rest upon the great planet of the future.
THE LOCATION OF THE HEAVENLY CITY
The eternal home of the saints is now in heaven as the capital city, which is implied in the name “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22). But this raises a question that has often been asked, “Where is heaven?”
Some think it is located somewhere in the northern skies. To support this, they point out that astronomers have discovered only one area in space that appears to be empty—the region around the North Star. No other stars have ever been discovered there. Rather, only a faint luminous glow has been detected. Therefore, they speculate that this must be the location of heaven.
For biblical evidence to support their position, they point to Psalm 75, which reads in part:
For exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south (v.6).
They reason that if “exaltation” does not originate from the east, west, or south, it can come only from the north. Thus they conclude that since God is the One who gives blessing, this verse teaches that His throne is located somewhere in the north. In addition, they point out that the altar sacrifice was the brightness of God’s glory coming from the north (Ezek. 1:4).
These scriptural affirmations may give us a hint as to the present location of heaven and its capital city, though we can’t be sure that it is in some distant place out in space. It may be much nearer to earth than we think, and we need not be disturbed by statements of unbelievers who say that no astronomers have ever seen evidence of its existence. The fact is that vast reaches in space have not yet been probed by the most powerful telescopes. Besides, it is foolish to deny that something exists just because it cannot be seen with the eyes or detected by our present equipment. Every scientifically minded person in our atomic age realizes that something may be very real while being completely imperceptible to us.
We believe beyond all doubt in the existence of a glorious city called “the heavenly Jerusalem.”We are confident that the saints of past ages and our loved ones who died in Christ are there now, and that we will someday join them. The patriarchs looked forward to entering this promised city when they died. Abraham left his homeland, an area of well-established cities, to follow the call of God, though he did not know his earthly destination. Nevertheless he was able to exercise great faith and patience while living as a wanderer because “he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).
Even though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were never able to gain full possession of the Promised Land, they did not despair. They realized that a heavenly city was awaiting them. That’s the reason the Bible says that “now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16).
This heavenly city, planned and built by God, is mentioned again in Hebrews 12.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels (Heb. 12:22).
I repeat, then, that today the great city of God for which Abraham looked is in heaven, the dwelling place of the souls of all believers in Christ who have died.We do not know exactly where heaven with its capital city is located, but we wait for it with hopeful anticipation.
ITS PLACE IN THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM
What will be the location of the heavenly city during the millennial reign of Christ? Some believe that throughout the coming golden age it will be suspended above the earth as a satellite city. While this theory cannot be proven, there is some evidence to substantiate it.
In the first place, the Scriptures indicate that Christ and His glorified saints will rule the earth during the millennial age. Our Lord is depicted as reigning from Jerusalem accompanied by resurrected believers. This does not mean, of course, that the glorified saints will be subjected to the limitations of earthly life. Their home will be the heavenly Jerusalem, but they will serve in certain capacities here. Dr. Alva J. McClain explained it this way:
The residence of the saints in heaven while ruling on earth, actually, is much less of a problem than that of a businessman whose office is in a city while his residence is in the suburbs.
A number of Bible scholars believe that during the tribulation period, which comes just before the establishment of the millennial kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem will become visible to earth dwellers. This would be in perfect keeping with the fact that miracles of power will be on open display. Furthermore, in Revelation 13:6 we may have a hint that the people on earth will be able to see the heavenly Jerusalem. We read:
Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.
The Greek text does not contain the word and which we find in our English version. It should read, “Then he opened his mouth for blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name, and His tabernacle—those who dwell in heaven.” Could it be that the sight of this satellite city where the saints dwell triggers this blasphemy?
Another indication that the heavenly Jerusalem will be relatively near the earth is found in Paul’s description of the rapture and resurrection at Christ’s coming for His own. He told the Thessalonian believers that the meeting place will be “in the air.”
The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive a nd remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Th. 4:16-17).
The place where the Lord and His saints will meet in the air could be the location from which they will share with Christ in His rule over the earth during those 1,000 years. If this is true, and the heavenly Jerusalem is a satellite city suspended above the earth, the resurrected and translated saints would have ready access to earth from their dwelling place above. This would facilitate their ruling with Christ, as promised in the Word of God.
A further implication that during the millennial age the heavenly Jerusalem will be a satellite city is found in John’s description, which we read earlier, as he saw it descending from heaven (Rev. 21:2). The language used indicates that this city was already in existence before it made its descent to earth. When we recall that Hebrews 12 depicts the “heavenly Jerusalem” as a home of “the spirits of just men made perfect” (v.23), we have good reason to believe that the eternal home of the resurrected believers will be the same city.We find it logical to think of it in three stages: (1) the heavenly Jerusalem where the spirits of the dead now live, (2) the satellite city from which certain believers commute to earth during the millennial age, and (3) the settled city which will ultimately rest upon “a new earth.”
ITS GENERAL DESCRIPTION
John described graphically the coming of the New Jerusalem to the earth. Remember, our entire present solar system will have been dissolved into one great mass by God’s fire of judgment, and the new heavens and new earth will have been built out of its ruins. Then John said:
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. Then I, John, 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 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” (Rev. 21:1-3).
What a breathtaking sight this must have been! And how awesome the voice that declared the glorious truth that God will forever dwell there with His people! As John looked at the city coming down, he saw it glowing with the glory of God. He observed it resting upon its 12 jeweled foundations and rising skyward, sparkling like a diamond in the sunlight and reflecting its brightness over the whole earth. Then John gave its measurements:
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 (Rev. 21:15-16).
The New Jerusalem is depicted as being 1,500 miles long and wide.We also read that “its length, breadth, and height are equal.” Many Bible students believe these numbers should be taken symbolically and that the city, cubical in form, resembles the shape of the holy of holies in the tabernacle and temple. There seems to be no good reason, however, to depart from the literal acceptance of the dimensions of the holy city.
Even if we take the numbers literally, though, we cannot speak with absolute certainty about its height. But if the phrase “length, breadth, and height are equal” means that the city is actually 1,500 miles high as well as wide and long, we still cannot be sure that we should take this as depicting the shape of a perfect cube or of a pyramid going up 1,500 miles. Some Bible students believe that the word equal in this context simply means that it will be square, and that in height it will be level.
Whether we accept the city as existing in the form of a cube, a pyramid, or a perfectly level square makes very little difference. In either case the size is most amazing. At the ground level it covers more area than India, and if placed in the United States, it would reach from the tip of Maine to the tip of Florida, and from the shore of the Atlantic Ocean westward to Denver. What a city that will be! It will rise up from the earth on 12 foundations of precious jewels and will glow with perpetual light as it reflects the glory of God and shines out through its jasper walls. What beauty! What immensity! No need for anyone to worry about whether or not there will be room for the redeemed!
Yes, glory—indescribable blessedness—will be the eternal portion of all who trust in Jesus Christ. Believers are now citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, and someday in glorified bodies they will enter the New Jerusalem. What a great salvation is ours! What a wonderful prospect! What a blessed hope!