“And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Rev. 21:2)
Fundamentally Different, Not Just a Matter of Semantics
Many people unintentionally, mistake the New Jerusalem for heaven. When I was a child, I remember singing a song that says:“I’ve got a mansion just over the hill top in that bright land where we’ll never grow old and some day yonder, we’ll never more wander, but walk those streets that are paved with gold.”
I may have gotten a few words wrong, but the gist of the song is pretty clear. That is, that we’re going to heaven—“to that bright land where we’ll never grow old” and “walk those streets that are paved with gold.” However, in aspiring to heaven, the writer was, in referring to golden streets, addressing an attribute of the holy city, New Jerusalem.
In the many years since my childhood days of singing that song, I’ve never once read in the Bible where it says that heaven has golden streets. However, Revelation 21:21, in speaking of the New Jerusalem, does say “the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” You can see from this illustration, the thought of heaven having golden streets, is just one example of the confusion of heaven and the New Jerusalem.
Well, someone may say, “Aren’t they one and the same—heaven and the New Jerusalem? I say heaven. You say New Jerusalem. It’s all about the same.” However, the opening verse I referenced points to a distinction. In Revelation 21:2 it says that the holy city, New Jerusalem is coming down out of heaven. This verse directly indicates a difference, for the New Jerusalem to come down out of heaven indicates that the two expressions are not synonymous.
Then what is the distinction?
Heaven, God’s dwelling (1 Kings 8:50), the place of His throne (Isa. 66:1), and the place where Christ ascended physically after His resurrection (Acts 1:9-11) is no doubt a physical place. However, the New Jerusalem is not a physical place “to which we go” but the greatest sign in the entire Bible (see Rev. 1:1) signifying, God’s spiritual, eternal building of divinity and humanity. It is the eternal, consummation of all God’s work in humanity throughout the ages, a mingling of God and man to be the mutual dwelling place for both God and all His redeemed people for eternity.
What difference does it make anyway?
The view you have between the heaven and the New Jerusalem can change your entire Christian life. If your view is that a Christian’s eternal destiny is simply to “go to heaven” when we die, you may feel that as long as you are born again or regenerated, you are basically waiting to go to heaven. In addition, one with this concept might consider their service to God in this age ends with helping as many perishing people as possible to also go to heaven when they die. This heaven or hell gospel has unfortunately caused many a well-intended Christian to miss out on the deeper meaning of their Christian life on earth today. This kind of view of a Christian’s eternal destiny is “locational,” basically a change of place, from earth to heaven, instead of hell.
From Revelation 21:2, however, we can see that the New Jerusalem is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” From verses 9-10, we can see that the bride, the wife of Lamb is the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. I’d like to point out again that this city is “out of heaven,” so it is not heaven. Second, I’d like to point out that this city is married to the Lamb, Christ (John 1:29). Such a bride is adorned for her husband (v. 2). This implies that a process of getting ready is necessary. A bride must match her husband, to be his counterpart.
Likewise, we must be “adorned” to marry Christ, to be His corporate counterpart, His wife. Anyone you marry must be “bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh, even as Eve was to Adam (Gen. 2:23). To be bone of Christ’s bones, and flesh of His flesh, we must be the same as Christ in life and nature. We also must grow up in His life unto maturity (Eph 4:13, 15-16). Christ, would be humiliated to marry an immature bride. He would rather wait. Such has been the case for nearly 2,000 years of church history. Christ is waiting for His bride to be prepared.
Where is the bride for Christ to come back for?
So to make my point, the New Jerusalem is not a “locational” matter—a change in location, but an “intrinsic” or “essential” matter—a change of essence or constitution. We’re not just going to the New Jerusalem, we’re becoming the New Jerusalem. To be in the New Jerusalem, one must first become the New Jerusalem. Through the process of God’s complete salvation—the regeneration of our spirit (John 3:6), the transformation of our soul (Rom. 12:2), and the glorification of our body (Rom. 8:30), we must become the same as Christ in life and nature but not in His Godhead, being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Such a change in essence requires that once we are saved, we cooperate with God’s central work, that is to allow God to work Himself into our entire being (1 Thes. 5:23; Eph. 3:17). Only in this way can we become the proper constituents for the building of Christ’s Body today and of the New Jerusalem for eternity. Only in such a way can we be Christ’s bride, adorned for our dear Husband.
How is this Bride-city being prepared today?
In between the type of Adam and Eve, the first couple, in Genesis 2:18-23 and the fulfillment of this type, in the eternal couple in Revelation 21-22, we have the process of preparation in Ephesians 5:25-32. Here we can see the church, for whom Christ died in the past (v. 25), being sanctified in the present (v. 26), and presented to Christ, as His glorious bride in the future (v. 27). If we see that our eternal destiny is to become Christ’s bride, the holy city, the New Jerusalem, we will not foolishly waste our precious time today. Rather we will redeem every day to pursue Christ (Phil. 3:12), to gain Him and be found in Him (vv. 8-9) and to be sanctified by Christ, by enjoying the daily washing of the water in His word (v. 26). In this way we will be daily renewed (2 Cor. 4:16) to become as “new” as the New Jerusalem.
Such a life of redeeming the time, by understanding what the will of the Lord is (Eph 5:15-18), will bring us onward to God’s eternal goal and cause us to daily live a bride-preparing life, a life of preparing ourselves to become Christ’s bride, the New Jerusalem, for our eternal marriage.
I believe, I’ve made my point, that is, that we need to be spiritually preparing today for our coming marriage to Christ. For those who still have some concerns about believers going to heaven, and how that fits with the New Jerusalem, Witness Lee does a better job than I can of addressing the matter in chapter 18 of his book, The Church as the Body of Christ. Feel free to check it out online at ministrybooks.org under “Additional Titles by Witness Lee.”