We’ve reached the chapters that deal exclusively with the restoration of all things. Many things needed to be torn down and thrown into the fire so that a full restoration could be accomplished. The previous chapters have certainly shown the vengeance of Christ against those who rebelled against him; but now we see the details of what the Lord has brought down from heaven to men; it is a new dwelling place of God among men, one not according to the old law, for it has vanished away, and the old temple and old Jerusalem with it. Here we become acquainted with the most glorious thing on earth, the holy city of God. A restored people, a holy and royal priesthood whom God pleased to dwell among.
I am aware that many think this chapter is about heaven; I once thought that myself. But what really began to open my eyes was not the teachings or influences of other men, for I wasn’t aware of any other teachings at the time, but it was simply reading the chapters themselves that caused me to realize that I must have it all wrong. There is so much in these last two chapters that speak against the belief that this is a vision of heaven that I was forced to leave that view and accept the direction that the context was moving.
The first thing that caused me to reread the text was the statement I’ve quoted more than anything throughout this commentary, that these “things must soon take place” (1:1). Now, I could try to make a loose interpretation of those very clear words or say that the book slowly moves further away from the original premise, but the great stumbling block to those ideas is that the book repeats this foundational point within the context of the last two chapters, of all places.
“And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” (Revelation 22:6).
I knew that I needed to respect these words, but my view of the end of the book being about the future day of judgment and the final heavenly abode could not be forced into the parameters which God had set for the book. To honor what God was communicating in 1:1 and 22:6 I had to read the book again, this time using the bible to interpret the bible, which I should have done in the first place. Here are some of the things that my eyes were opened to in the last two chapters of the book (I will go into greater detail in the commentary portion).
The city described in these chapters is not in heaven, but was seen “coming down out of heaven from God” (21:2), and it did not remain in the sky but descended all the way to the earth to be among mankind (21:3). Just as Paul had identified the present church in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, so the city of Revelation carries the same identification, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (21:3, 7). We had heard the call for the marriage supper of the Lamb in chapter nineteen, before the beast is thrown into the fire, and before the thousand-year figure; now, we see the wedding commence (21:2, 9); the natural flow of the context would be to keep the wedding in the same time frame and not thousands of years a part.
Throughout these chapters it is evident that life was still very much alive on earth, and with it the opportunity for individuals to come to Jesus. There is a call to the thirsty to come and drink of the waters of life (21:6), and a motivation to conquer (21:7); if this was heaven, then men would have already come to the waters, and would have already conquered the foe in their past days on earth. And why are the gates of the city open (21:25)? The text explains that it is for people to bring the honor of the nations into it (21:26), and for those who would be saved to enter in (21:27; 22:14-15); if this was heaven, these things would be already completed. The re-introduction of the tree of life (22:2) among men is what Christ has already brought in the church; an abundant life, a relationship with God while still on the earth, like that of Adam and Eve’s life with God in the garden of Eden. According to the text, the leaves of the tree are for the “healing of the nations;” but if this was heaven, all those inside would have been healed (past tense) and anyone outside could not have opportunity to come and be healed, and yet, back in the text, this bride (which is supposed as heaven) says “come” to those who have yet to forgiven (22:17). How is that possible? If this was heaven, then the fate of all would be already sealed and finalized; but it is evident throughout these chapters that the city in context, though not of this world, has come down to earth with wide open gates and a continual invitation for the nations to be healed, and to drink from the waters of life (22:1, 17; John 4:13-14). Finally, the sight of the throne of God (22:1, 3) should not bring heaven to the forefront of our mind, but the church. For it is the church which is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21-22; 1 Peter 2:5), and God’s throne is in the most holy place of the temple, which is a place that men have bold access to (Hebrews 4:16, 10:19-22) since the beginning of the new covenant.