With all of the imagery amid these chapters, just what is meant by a new heaven and a new earth is highly debated. Many see it as a literal renewal of earth after the old has passed away. But much about what is spoken of in this chapter simply does not fit into such a notion. 2 Peter 3:10-13 affirms that the earth and the heavenly bodies will be destroyed – burned up – after the judgment. Just how this imagery of a new heaven and a new earth does fit into the coming of the faithful to heaven is uncertain. What is certain is that there will be a literal new home for the faithful that is so wonderful than our minds probably could not grasp it without the imagery contained here that is full of references to precious metals and jewels and such.
No sun or moon will be needed because “the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” No temple is there because God will be in the midst of his faithful, and they shall be His people. This is an echo of the prophetic language in Isaiah 60:19-20. The description of John being carried away in the Spirit to the high mountain to view the new Jerusalem is reminiscent of the time after “Gog and Magog’s” destruction Ezekiel 38-39, when Ezekiel was transported to “a very high mountain” (Ezekiel 40:2-3) to see the future temple of God. The measurements done this time are enormous (a stadia was about 185 meters) and all are multiples of twelve; and the number is repeated in other descriptions here as both the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel are mentioned. Both of these groups were important, after all, in both the old covenant and the new covenant.
The last word of comfort in this chapter for these first century Christians – and for us – is that once in heaven, no longer will they have to live among those who do evil in the world or, most especially, do evil to them, as verse 27 says “…nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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