We tend to think that our final destiny is heaven. It seems like that’s what Jesus promised when He said, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). Yet in Revelation, John declares that the place Jesus is preparing will ultimately come “down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:2). Scripture doesn’t conclude with God’s children floating on clouds up there, but with God living with His saints down here.
The biblical story begins in a garden of delight, and then it focuses on our embodied God who physically died, rose again and is remembered in the material symbols of the bread and cup. Our hope is equally physical. We long for our resurrection, when we will live as whole people—body and soul—in the new Jerusalem on the new earth. This ending may be surprising, but it is a fitting climax to the story God has been telling all along. If we back up, we’ll see how the story began—with a promise.
God began His salvation plan by commanding Abram to “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Abram obeyed, and his children blossomed into the nation of Israel, from which God promised to restore the entire world (Gen 12:1–3). Israel acquired its permanent headquarters when King David captured the centrally located, impregnable fortress of Jerusalem (2 Sam 5:6–10). David brought the ark of God to his capital because of what it meant to the people (2 Sam 6).
Although they knew God wanted to bless the world through them, Israel betrayed Him and worshiped foreign gods. God punished their idolatry by razing Jerusalem and its temple and allowing His people to be dragged off into captivity. Jerusalem would be destroyed numerous times—by the Babylonians in 586 BC, the Seleucids in 167 BC and the Romans in 70 AD.
For the Jews, Jerusalem was:
The home of God on earth. David sings “the praises of the LORD, enthroned in Zion” (Psa 9:11); Asaph calls on God to remember “Mount Zion, where you dwelt” (Psa 74:2); and God Himself concludes the prophecy of Joel with the cheer, “The LORD dwells in Zion!” (Joel 3:21).
The place where God will defeat the powers of evil. Zechariah prophesies that God will destroy all of His enemies at a climactic battle in Jerusalem (Zech 12:1–9; 14:12–15). “Blow the trumpet in Zion,” writes Joel, “sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming” (Joel 2:1). Amos adds, “The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem” (Amos 1:2). Isaiah declares that “the LORD Almighty will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights” (Isa 31:4).
- The source of blessing for the world. Psalm 46:4 states, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” Ezekiel 47 adds that this river, which begins in the temple, runs from Jerusalem all the way to the sea. The sea then carries its new fertile, fresh water to the ends of the earth. He writes: “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezek 47:12).
Even before the carnage began, Isaiah announced that God would keep His promise. “Good news” would eventually come to Jerusalem, for “the glory of the LORD will be revealed” there—in a way that no one would expect (Isa 40:1–11). God’s glory was revealed when the Son of God came to earth. Jesus recognized the importance of Jerusalem, and He “resolutely set out for” the city (Luke 8:51). There, He defeated the powers of evil before the dwelling place of God. His death provided life-giving water for the world. John records Jesus saying, “Whoever believes in me … streams of living water will flow from within them.” John then explains, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (John 7:38–39). The Spirit came to Jerusalem on Pentecost, where the life-giving water of the gospel bubbled up, streamed into Samaria and finally poured “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Those who are washed will join Jesus when He brings His new Jerusalem to the new earth.
John’s Revelation consummates the biblical focus on the new Jerusalem. Its descent from heaven means:
- God is here. John writes, “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” (Rev 21:3). Three times in this verse, John says that God will live with His people. The biblical story doesn’t end with God taking us up to live with him, but with God coming down to live with us. He is Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Matt 1:23).
- Evil has been vanquished forever. Jesus will return and “wipe every tear” from our eyes. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4). This perfect bliss will continue forever, for “nothing impure will ever enter” the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:27).
- The entire world flourishes under the blessing of God. In spectacular fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision, John declares that a river of life will flow “from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city” (Rev 22:1–2). Its waters will nourish the tree of life, which bears monthly fruit, and leaves that heal the nations. Every nation bears the scars of their bloody attempts to achieve peace and prosperity. Their wars will continue until the end, when Jesus brings His kingdom of peace to earth and reigns over our world from the new Jerusalem. John closes his letter, and the entire Bible, with the only appropriate response: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).
To learn more about the Christian hope, pick up Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. Go to Logos.com/WrightHope