(2) And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Isaiah’s discussion of the new heavens and earth follows the new creation of Jerusalem.
“But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. (19) I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” (Isaiah 65:18-19).
The new Jerusalem is a place of joy. The old Jerusalem was filled with the “sound of weeping and the cry of distress,” but there are no tears in the new Jerusalem (see 21:4), for God’s people rejoice in the Lord always.
“The holy city.” This contrasts with the old Jerusalem; the very unholy harlot city which was destroyed (see comments on chapter 17). The new Jerusalem is a holy city, a holy people. This is not what will be in the future but was is now; for in the days of the first century, God created in Christ a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). Paul said to the Romans,
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (2) For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2).
Holiness is now! Righteousness is now! The true Christian is not waiting to be clothed with righteousness in a future time but was raised with Christ in baptism to be alive with him today (Romans 6:3-11), to be “holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:22). According to scripture, the holy city is not something that the true Christian is looking forward to but is something that they are a part of now.
“New Jerusalem.” This city is often believed to be heaven because it is described so heavenly. Indeed, this is a truly heavenly city, but it is not heaven; Revelation tells us so. The book tells us that this city came “down out of heaven” and that it is the bride of the lamb (v.9); and it is a place among mankind where God can be with them (v.3), and offers many others to come into the established city (21:6, 26-27; 22:14-15); finally, it tells us that the coming down of this city to mankind would “soon take place” (22:6). And with many other details, which we will cover in the comments of these last chapters, it is undoubtedly not heaven that is in view in the context. It is most certainly heavenly but not heaven. And maybe that’s the problem in interpreting the New Jerusalem, most do not recognize how heavenly the true church is, and therefore cannot make the connection between the beautiful city of God in this vision and the New Testament church. But this is a foreign concept to the scriptures, which view the church as the most heavenly house of God, where he abides among those who are the “living stones” that make up God’s “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). Perhaps the writer of Hebrews gives the most specific witness against the idea that the New Jerusalem is the future home in heaven, for he spoke of the New Jerusalem as a current city which Christians on earth were living within.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22).
Hebrews described the Christian as having already come to the Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven from God. Even Paul, in Galatians, speaks to the brethren of the “Jerusalem above” (Galatians 4:26) which all who are “children of promise” (Galatians 4:28) are a part of. The conclusion that is consistent with the whole biblical record is that the New Jerusalem is not heaven but the city of God which the faithful on earth have a share.
The fact that it is the New Jerusalem, shows its contrast with the Old Jerusalem. The old was the physical model of the city of God, where God’s temple was; the new is the spiritual realities of the small-scale model.
“Coming down out of heaven from God.” The city originates from God. The church, as Daniel noticed, was “cut out by no human hand” (Daniel 2:34). If this were heaven, and all the world has been destroyed, then why is this city coming down from heaven in order to make a “dwelling place of God” (v.3) among man?
“Prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” The night of the wedding began in 19:7 (see comments there), and the bride put on her beautiful wedding gown in 19:8 (see comments), and now the wedding procession commences. This is a challenging verse for those who view chapter nineteen as the fall of Rome and chapter twenty-one as heaven – a fulfillment still in the future. For the first century culture, a bride putting on her wedding gown meant that she would be wed the same night. Even today, a bride puts on her gown just before the procession down the aisle. But if we look at these chapters as a consistent line of things that “must soon take place” for the first century brethren, then the bride putting on her gown in chapter nineteen and marching down the aisle – so to speak – in chapter twenty-one is one harmonious picture of the consummation of the new covenant in the first century.