The Heavenly City of God
July 28th, 1963 @ 8:15 AM
THE HEAVENLY CITY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Revelation 21:9 – 22:5
7-28-63 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Heavenly City of God. In our preaching through the Bible for these many years, we have come to the Revelation. In our preaching through the Revelation, we have come to these last and climactic chapters, chapters 21 and 22.
Chapter 21 begins with a description of the new heaven and the new earth [Revelation 21:1-8]. Then beginning at verse 9, there is a description of the holy city, the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:9-22:5]. And that description continues through the first five verses of chapter 22. The first five verses of chapter 22 belong to chapter 21, and the division should have been there.
Beginning at verse 6 in chapter 22 there is an epilogue to the whole book written by the apostle John [Revelation 22:6-21]. After John has spoken of the new heaven and the new earth [Revelation 21:1-8], he now describes the New Jerusalem, the capital city of God. And he describes it first from the outside. Verses 9 through the first part of verse 21 describes the outside of the city as he looked at it descending from heaven [Revelation 21:9-21]. And then beginning at the second part of verse 21, and continuing through verse 5 of chapter 22, John enters into the city and he describes the inside of the beautiful city of God [Revelation 21:21-22:5]. We shall read it in those two parts. First, the description of the outside:
And there came unto me one of the seven angels…and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like unto a jasper stone, clear as crystal:
By these references, I think that word iaspis, translated here “jasper,” is a diamond, “clear as crystal”:
And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:
On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates.
And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof.
And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as a breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.
And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, which was used by the angel.
And the building of the wall of it was of diamond: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.
And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was a diamond one, a jasper one; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald;
The fifth, a sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, the chrysolite; the eighth, the beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.
And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl…
Now we enter the city itself. This is how it looked on the inside:
And the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.
And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.
And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it.
And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.
And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.
And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
And he showed me—
on the inside of that city—
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him:
And they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads.
And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.
That closes the Revelation. The remaining verses are an epilogue of authentication, of affirmation [Revelation 22:6-21]. What a beautiful, beautiful subject and prospect, to speak of this holy and heavenly city of God. It is the bride of Christ:
And there came unto me one of the seven angels… saying, Come hither, and I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.
And he carried me away in the Spirit, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God;
And he calls it “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” [Revelation 21:9].
It is both the city and the inhabitants, the Lamb’s wife who lives in it [Revelation 21:9]. I think it is a real city, a new Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2], in comparison with the old; an actual, beautiful, incomparably glorious city. On the inside of that city is the church, the bride of Christ [Revelation 21:9]. But if you remember the exposition of the nineteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, when the bride of Christ, His wife, is married to the Lamb in heaven, there is a verse that says an especial blessing, benediction, a beatitude for those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9]. Upon that gala, and glad, and glorious occasion, the marriage of the Lamb, the bride of Christ, His church, to the Savior, upon that occasion, there was also a wedding supper. And there were guests who were invited to that wedding supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:9]. John the Baptist referred to himself as “a friend of the Bridegroom” [John 3:29]. He was not a member of the church. He did not live in the church age. He belonged to the old order and the old dispensation. And John the Baptist is one of the guests at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Abraham is one of the guests. All of the saints of the old dispensation are the guests. But the bride is the church of the blessed Lord Jesus [Revelation 21:9].
In that beautiful city then lives the bride, the church, the saved of the Lord of this age and dispensation [Revelation 21:9]. And in that city are her friends and attendants [John 3:29]. And in that city are the redeemed of the old covenant, all of them making their home there in that beautiful city of God [Ezekiel 48:30-35]. It comes not from heaven but out of heaven: “And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down, apo tou theou, from, apo tou theou, from God, but ek tou ouranou, out of heaven” [Revelation 21:2].
Somebody listening to the sermon I delivered last Sunday on the new heaven and the new earth [Revelation 21:1], that this is our ultimate and abiding home, said, “It is so different from what I thought for. I thought we went to heaven when we died.” We do. We go to heaven when we die [John 14:3]. We are married to the Lamb of God in heaven, and that is our home in heaven [Revelation 21:9].
This New Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven [Revelation 21:2], and I suppose by every reference in this passage that the new city comes down to this earth. It does not say it comes to this earth, but I see no reason for the vision of the new heaven and the new earth unless this new city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, comes down to it [Revelation 21:1-2]. So it just seems to me that the reference means that. We do go to heaven [John 14:3], and this is our home, that beautiful city of gold [Revelation 21:18]. But it comes down to this earth in God’s new and regenerated creation [Revelation 21:2].
So the bride is that city, real; and the sweet, wonderful people, regenerated and redeemed, who live in it [Revelation 21:9-10]; the church, the bride, her friends and attendants, and all of the guests who were invited and blessed at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:9]. So in this city of God are all of God’s saved, from the day of Abel [Genesis 4:2, 4, 8-10], to the last martyr who died under the hand of the Antichrist. As our Lord said, “Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down in the kingdom of heaven with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” [Matthew 8:11], God’s saved through all the ages in that beautiful city.
I would think it also included all of the saved because of the way God hath fashioned it. “It had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and on the twelve gates, the twelve tribes of the children of Israel” [Revelation 21:12]. And Jesus said, “Salvation is of the Jews” [John 4:22]—the twelve tribes of the children of Israel inscribed over each gate [Revelation 21:12]. “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” [Revelation 21:14]. So they’re both together, both dispensations, both covenants; the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on the twelve several gates and the names of the twelve apostles on the twelve foundations of the wall. All of God’s saints are living in that beautiful city.
That corresponds with my interpretation of who the twenty-four elders are [Revelation 4:4]. They represent twelve of the patriarchs. They represent twelve of the apostles of the Lamb; that is, the twenty-four elders, the twenty-four elders represent all of the saved of both dispensations—both covenants, the old and the new. So when we come to see God face to face in heaven [Revelation 22:4], we shall see there also Abraham, and Isaac, and David, and Isaiah, and all of the saved of the old covenant who looked forward to the coming of Jesus. Then we shall see there all the saved of the new covenant; these who are our fellow members in the family and household of God’s church [Revelation 7:9].
Now the city is described, as John saw it, a perfect and beautiful cube [Revelation 21:16]. This is what our Lord is doing now. He is preparing this home for us in heaven [John 14:1-3]. Our Lord in heaven now is engaged in two things. One: He is interceding for us. He prays for us. We would not last before the power of Satan. We’re no equal for him. We would not last in the twinkling of an eye. In the breathing of one breath, we would be destroyed were it not for the continual intercession and sustaining prayerful remembrance of our Savior in heaven; “Wherefore He is able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us” [Hebrews 7:25]. So our Lord is praying in heaven for us. And second: He is preparing a home for us. He is fashioning and shaping this beautiful city of God, and in that city is our eternal home [John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:2].
John saw the city and he looked at it as it came down in prophetic vision from God out of heaven, descending to this earth, and it was an incomparably glorious [city] made out of pure gold [Revelation 21:18]. Now he speaks of its size. First, its size: it is twelve thousand furlongs [Revelation 21:16]. The Greek word is stadion, it is twelve thousand stadion: the length, the breadth, and the height. That’d be a thousand five hundred miles. It is a city that would be as large as from Maine to Florida. But it also has breadth and height. It is a city that would cover all of Ireland, and England, and Great Britain, and France, and Spain, and Germany, and Austria, and Italy, and a European Turkey, and one half of all Russia. And the height of it—it is built by street levels and by stories—and the height of it is as great as the length and the breadth [Revelation 21:16]. It is a vast, vast city. And the wall of the city is a hundred forty-four cubits high [Revelation 21:17]; about two hundred fifty feet high, the great square base upon which the city rests. That’s a word of the size.
Now may I speak of its color? I have always felt that God loved color. When you see a sunset, do you ever wonder why a sunset? Just what good is a sunset? Can you think of any utilitarian reason for a sunset? Can you eat it? Could you plow it? Could you sell it? Could you buy it? What good is a sunset? You cannot think of any utilitarian purpose of a glorious, incomparable sunset—just except this: that God loves color and beautiful things. Now, that was especially impressed upon me as I prepared this message on the city of God; the Lord loves color. There is jasper and sapphire, chalcedony and emerald. There is sardonyx and sardius. There is chrysolite and beryl. There is topaz and chrysoprasus. There is jacinth and amethyst [Revelation 21:19-20]. You know enough about jewels to see the color, the incomparable color in those twelve that are named. God takes the azure blue of the chalice of His sky. He takes the color of the surf of the raging sea. He takes the emerald of the meadow. He takes the riot of autumnal glory. He takes the frozen light of His sunsets, and these fiery August nights, and He freezes it in diamond, and topaz, and turquoise, and emerald. I cannot imagine it: for a thousand five hundred miles, those foundations in the colors of those beautiful, and sparkling, and iridescent, and radiant jewels. Oh! What it must be, God’s city of the soul.
Then its symmetry and its proportion; God loves symmetry and proportion. Our Lord was beautiful in all respects; not just in some and in others lacking, but proportionate, wholly perfect, in every part, in His soul, in His heart, in His stature, in His words, in His mind, in His affections. And that’s the way God shall build us. And it is seen in the perfection and the symmetry of His incomparable city, like the Holy of Holies in the temple and in the tabernacle: a perfect cube, beautiful, symmetrical [Revelation 21:16].
Now we must hasten, for we have not yet entered the city. Oh, what it must be like inside! If this is the foundation, what must the wall be? If this is the wall, what must the city be? And if this is the outside of the city, what must the inside be? Oh, that there was eloquence to say it! “The streets pure gold and I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it” [Revelation 21:21-22].
The city itself is a sanctuary; no need of veils, and ceremonies, and rituals, and intercessions, and mediators, for we shall live in the presence of God Himself. Jehovah Shammah, they could call that New Jerusalem: “Here is God with us” [Matthew 1:23]. No need of a temple, for we have direct and immediate access to the Lord God Himself [Revelation 21:22]. And there is no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, “for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” [Revelation 21:23]. It has an inherent iridescence and glory.
Moses, when he was with God, came down the mountain and his face shined [Exodus 34:29-30]. Why? because of the glory of God. Glory is luster and splendor. When Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration, His face was light and glorious with the presence of God [Matthew 17:1-2]. When Paul saw Him on the road to Damascus, he was blinded above the light of the midday sun by the glory of the face of Jesus [Acts 9:3]. “For the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” [Revelation 21:23]. From the first verse of Genesis to the last benedictory prayer of Jesus, all is of the Lamb; it’s of the Lamb [Genesis 1:1- Revelation 22:21].
And the people who are in it are those written in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 21:27]. Then we have a description that corresponds in a remarkable way to the description of the garden of Eden. In the garden of Eden was a river, and the four streams thereof watered the paradise the Lord made for Adam and Eve [Genesis 2:10]. “There is a river, the streams thereof, making glad the city of God” [Psalm 46:4]. “I saw a river, pure water of life, clear as crystal”; the most refreshing of all God’s gifts in the world is cool, clear water, “a pure river of the water of life. And in the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river was there the tree of life” [Revelation 22:1-2]. By that he means, through the great city, running this refreshing, life giving stream, and it is lined by the tree of life. Numerous in specimen; does not mean just one tree, but lined with the tree of life. That’s the same way as you will remember Longfellow begins his poem “Evangeline,” Evangeline. “This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pine and the hemlock.” That does not mean just one pine and one hemlock; “The forest primeval, the murmuring pine and the hemlock,” numerous in specimen. So it is here; the tree of life lining the river of God [Revelation 21:1-2].
“And the fruit thereof,” for the food, the manna, the life of the soul and of the beautiful glorified resurrected tabernacle God hath made for us without hands, our resurrected immortalized bodies [2 Corinthians 5:1]. Shall we eat in heaven? Shall we eat in heaven? The Lord said, “I will henceforth eat no more until I eat and drink with you in the kingdom of God” [Matthew 26:29]. The resurrected Lord ate before His disciples [Luke 24:41-43; John 21:12-15]. Someday we shall share at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9]. Yes, we shall eat the ambrosia of God, the manna of the Lord, in heaven [Luke 12:37]; water of life, and bread of life.
“And His servants shall serve Him” [Revelation 22:3]. This last week somebody came to me and said, “I just cannot imagine heaven; sitting there all the eternities with nothing to do, just sit.” I said, “Where did you get that idea?” Well, didn’t know, didn’t know. There’s no intimation in the Bible that we just sit, but there are a thousand intimations and half a dozen statements to the very opposite.
What do we do in heaven? Of course, it is a sabbatical rest. But rest doesn’t mean that we do nothing. They called it rest, rest, when the children of Israel entered Canaan [Deuteronomy 12:9-10], which was a type of our sabbatical rest in glory. What the word rest in the Bible means, that we are done with the harsh pilgrimage of this world; no more tears, and age, and sighing, and dying, and crying, these are passed [Revelation 21:4]. We are entered into a sabbatical rest. But when the children of Israel entered Canaan, why, there was work to be done, and a kingdom to build, and a government to prosper, and how much else beside.
Now you never get away from that, and there is no other presentation in the Word of God. When we are in heaven, says here, “And His servants shall serve Him” [Revelation 22:3]. In the first paradise, if you’ll read the first chapter and the second chapter of Genesis, you’ll find this: in the first paradise the Lord said, “There is nobody here to till the ground” [Genesis 2:5], and the Lord made a man to keep the garden and to dress it, an assignment of work [Genesis 2:15]. “And He created him that he might have dominion over all things above and beneath and around him” [Genesis 1:26-28].
He assigned him a task and responsibility even before he was created. In heaven, now for example in the parable of the pounds, the Lord said to this man, “Look, you have gained ten pounds. You shall have authority over ten cities. And this man was faithful over five pounds; his pound hath gained five pounds,” He said, “You shall be the administrator of five cities” [Luke 19:11-19].
Listen, in glory there are going to be millions and billions of people, and they are referred to as the nations of the saved who walk in the glory of the light of the heavenly city of God [Revelation 22:5]. That means government, and it means administration, and it means responsibilities and assignments. And God shall give us according to how we’ve been faithful here [Romans 2:6-11]. God shall give us our assigned tasks and responsibilities there [Matthew 25:21].
Now I could go on endlessly about that. What shall we do in heaven? There’s going to be music in heaven; music in heaven, world without end. No blue notes, nobody off key, nobody coming in late, everybody knowing how to breathe and to hit it just like that, instead of ya’ll over there and ya’ll here and somebody back there, all of them at the same time.
David’s going to play with his harp. Won’t that be great? Right there, David with his harp. And Gabriel’s going to play his trumpet right up there, right up there, and Handel will be at the organ right there, right there. I guess Jo Ellen will be at the piano, right there, right there. Lee Roy will lead the choir, and the angels sing—except that they don’t sing according to my sermon; we’re going to sing, the twenty-four elders sing.
And Moses will discourse to us on the law, and Paul will reason to us out of the Scriptures, and I’d love to hear eloquent Apollos preach, and I’d like to hear John describe the visions that so moved his soul. We’re going to praise God in heaven. But I haven’t got to the main part yet; time’s gone. You listen a moment.
This is the main part: “And they shall see His face,” look upon God, and live, look upon Jesus, glorified, and worship [Revelation 22:4]. Where do you want to live in glory? Which one of those mansions would you choose for your own? [John 14:1-3]. I have a reply. Dear Lord, any one of them, anywhere, just so the windows open on the palace of the great King so I can see Him come and go. That is heaven: to be with Jesus, and these whom He has redeemed in the blood of the Lamb [1 Peter 1:18-19].
Now, Lee Roy, I’m not going to take time—I must close—I’m not going to take time to quote the poem, but I want you to sing it. And it can be our invitation, in order for us to save a moment’s time. One of the most beautiful songs in the book, written by blind Fanny Crosby, is entitled “My Savior First of All”; 472, 472. I want you to look at the words of the song as you sing it. “My Savior First of All.”
In the glad song of the ages,
I shall mingle with delight,
But I long to meet my Savior first of all.
“And they shall see His face” [Revelation 22:4]; that is heaven, with God and His dear redeemed you, us, O God, and forever.
While we sing this song, somebody to give his heart to Jesus, somebody to put his life with us in the fellowship of the church, while we make appeal, would you come? “Preacher, here’s my hand; I give my heart to Jesus,” or “We’re all coming into the fellowship of this precious congregation.” On the first note of the first stanza, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.