by Watchman Nee
21.9-27 “THE NEW JERUSALEM”
21.9 Now the name of the wife of the Lamb is given. Many people consider the church to be the wife of the Lamb since, they say, there cannot be a literal New Jerusalem in the future. Many are the proofs, however, that the New Jerusalem is a literal new city:
(1) At that time the church as we know it today no longer exists, for she now becomes only a part of all the redeemed.
(2) Being a book of revelation, its chapters 2 and 3 plainly point out the churches quite clearly and specifically; why then should the New Jerusalem mentioned in chapter 21 of this same book be something other than the clearly stated and specifically mentioned New Jerusalem?
(3) According to 3.12 the New Jerusalem is what the church hopes for. If New Jerusalem is indeed the church, how could the church hope for the church? It would be senseless and illogical.
(4) In 19.7-13 the New Jerusalem is seen as the bride whereas the church is a guest, thus showing that the church is not New Jerusalem.
(5) How can there be no new city in the new heaven and the new earth? Where will people stay if they come to worship God? Did not our Lord expressly say that “in my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14.2)?
(6) If the woman mentioned in 12.1 refers to Jerusalem and the great harlot cited in 17.1 points to the city of Rome, how can the wife of the Lamb spoken of in 21.9 not be a reference to an actual city?
(7) After the blowing of the seventh trumpet the kingdom has arrived and the mystery is fulfilled. Since New Jerusalem subsists in the new heaven and the new earth, it cannot be considered a mystery, and therefore it must be literal.
(8) At the time of chapter 17 when John sees Babylon, he cannot cease wondering because it is a mystery which must be explained by an angel to him. Here, though, John is not amazed at all, neither does he need an angel to interpret to him. Hence what is here before us must be an actual city.
(9) People deem the wife of the Lamb to be the church because they adopt a totally spiritual view of eternity. Who knows, though, but what in the new heaven and the new earth everything is real and substantial? If God chose to use gold and silver in the building of Solomon’s temple, why can there not be gold and silver in the building by God of a new city in the new heaven and the new earth?
(10) Since many at that time are to be resurrected bodily, that is, they are to have a spiritual body, will they not need a place to stay?
(11) Here we are told the structure, dimensions, and materials of the city of New Jerusalem. These can hardly be applied to the church.
(12) 21.27 plainly implies that many will enter the city. If the city is the church which is itself made up of people, how can people enter into people? Furthermore, 21.25 says that the gates of the city are not shut by day. How can this fact be something related to the church?
(13) Here in 21.9 the wife of the Lamb is shown to John. Now if the wife of the Lamb is a mystery and the New Jerusalem is an explanation, how can an explanation not be taken literally?
(14) The New Jerusalem is contrasted with the Old Jerusalem. As Old Jerusalem is a literal city, so New Jerusalem must also be a literal city. It therefore cannot be taken as the church.
(15) Galatians 4 distinctly tells us that “the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother” (v.26). This Jerusalem is quite different from the church, so Paul says it is our (that is, the church’s) mother. Thus we cannot maintain that New Jerusalem is the church.
(16) Hebrews 11 says that Abraham “looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (v.10). The New Jerusalem is a true city with foundations. Did Abraham look for the church? He could not have known the church at his time.
(17) Hebrews 12.22 mentions the heavenly Jerusalem and the innumerable hosts of angels. Verse 23 of the same chapter speaks of the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (this means the church), speaks also of God who is the Judge of all, and of spirits of just men made perfect (the saints of old). There are altogether five classes enumerated here; namely, (1) God, (2) angels, (3) saints of the Old Testament time, (4) the church, and (5) the heavenly Jerusalem. The church and the heavenly Jerusalem are listed separately, therefore they cannot be the same.
[Translator’s Note: When Mr. Nee first gave these Bible readings on Revelation in the early days of his ministry he adopted a more literal interpretation of the holy city, New Jerusalem. In his later work, already quoted from earlier in this study and first entitled in Chinese as Holy and Without Blemish (but subsequently published in Chinese under the title The Glorious Church), the author took a more spiritual approach to its interpretation. What follows below are some highlights from this approach, translated directly from the first Chinese edition of Shanghai, 1953, pp. 133-155.]
21.10 “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high”—If we wish to see the eternal vision of God we need to be brought by God to a great and high mountain. Unless we stand on a spiritual high mountain we cannot see anything. Those who live on the plain will not be able to see the New Jerusalem—the finality of God’s work.
“The holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God”—The wife of the Lamb whom John saw was the holy city Jerusalem. The description of the city is allegorical. By its description we are told of the corporate body which God from eternity has purposed to obtain.
This is a city which comes out of heaven from God. God pays attention not only to where this corporate man will go but from whence he comes out as well. Not only the destiny but also the source. The wife of the Lamb comes out of heaven, not from earth. God does not show us here the man who has a past history of sin but is now saved by grace. This does not mean of course, that we do not have a history of sin, therefore needing neither repentance nor salvation. This passage of Scripture simply reveals to us that portion which comes out of God, which is the glorious church of Ephesians 5 that is to be presented to Christ.
One characteristic of this new Jerusalem is holiness. Among Christians, some look for greatness, some look for holiness. The former is the principle of Babylon, whereas the latter is the principle of New Jerusalem. What is holiness? We may say that only God is holy; therefore, all that comes out of God is holy: “For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one” (Heb. 2.11).
21.11 “Having the glory of God . . . a jasper stone”—The God on the throne whom John saw was like a jasper stone (see 4.3). In other words, jasper means the God who is seen. The God whom we know as we stand before His throne is like jasper stone. Our knowledge of God today here on earth is at best termed “darkly” or “in a riddle” (1 Cor. 13.12 mg.); but in the city which has the glory of God like a jasper stone we shall then see Him as He is—“clear as crystal” (v. 11).
21.12-14 “Having twelve gates, . . . and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: . . . And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb”—Whom does this corporate man include? Having the twelve names of the tribes of Israel on its gates and the twelve names of the apostles on its foundations, this city includes all the Old and the New Testament saints. At the time of the new heaven and the new earth, all who have the life of God are to be included in the New Jerusalem.
21.15-17 “And he that spake with me had for a measure a golden reed to measure . . . the wall thereof”—Besides the glory of God, the next thing mentioned is the wall of the city. Separation—as depicted here by a wall—is an important principle in Christian living. Lack of separation devaluates the Christian’s worth. A line must be drawn between what is spiritual and what is carnal. New Jerusalem has its boundary, its wall of separation. From this we learn that whatever is of Babylon must be rejected and whatever is of God must be protected. Building a city wall is not an easy task; it is greatly hated by Satan. For example, when Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to build the city wall, he was opposed vehemently by Sanballat and Tobiah. Consequently, with one hand he held his weapon and with the other hand he built. Let us ask God to teach us how to take up spiritual weapons against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies and how at the same time to maintain the principle of separation.
Having the names of the twelve apostles on the foundations means that everything in the city is based on the principle of the kingdom of God as proclaimed by the apostles. “Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2.20) simply means that the revelation which the apostles received from the Lord is the foundation of New Jerusalem.
Why are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel written on the doors? The answer is supplied by the words of the Lord Jesus himself, who declared that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4.22).
The Bible employs gold to represent all that is of God. To measure with a golden reed suggests that this city is measurable by God’s standard, for it meets His standard.
“And the city lieth foursquare, . . . the length and the breadth and the height thereof are equal”—In the Scriptures we find that only the holiest of all things in the temple and the New Jerusalem are in perfect cubes. This is thus to imply that in the new heaven and the new earth the New Jerusalem will be the holiest of all to God.
“According to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel”—Why at that time is the measure of a man equal to the measure of an angel? In resurrection, men shall be equal to the angels (Luke 20.36). In other words, all that is in the city is on resurrection ground. That which cannot be bound and retained by death is called resurrection. Whatever comes out of us will be finished at the cross; that which is of God cannot be touched by death.
21.18-21 “And the city was pure gold, like unto pure glass”—One special feature of New Jerusalem is that the gold therein is pure. Everything is wholly of God; there is not a speck of mixture. Whatever is not of God is dross. No one can say to God that he has something in himself to give to Him. What God wants is nothing but pure gold.
“The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones”—There is a basic difference between gold and precious stone. The first is a single chemical element, but the second is a compound. Gold is directly created by God, whereas precious stone is the result of the fusing together of several elements under the earth after they have gone through extremely high temperature accompanied by pressure. In other words, what the precious stone represents is not that which God gives directly to man, rather it stands for the refining work which the Holy Spirit has done in man. The life which God gives to us is gold, the life which God forges in us is precious stone. God does not stop with merely imparting the life of Christ to us; He goes on to incorporate or work into us that life in us.
“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls”—Pearl is formed by the secretion of a mollusk in the sea after it is wounded by a grain of sand or other foreign matter. Hence pearl signifies that life which comes out of death. It represents the life which the Lord Jesus Christ has released in His death on the non-atoning side.
“And the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass”—A street is a place for fellowship. Inasmuch as the street of the city is pure gold, all who walk on it will never have their feet defiled. Today all who are bathed still need to wash their feet continually (John 13.10) in order to maintain their fellowship with God. For as long as we walk on this earth we cannot help but be contaminated by the dust of the earth, thus affecting our fellowship with God. But the day shall come when nothing will defile us nor hinder our fellowship with God. In eternity nothing defiles us, therefore our whole life shall be holy.
“As it were transparent glass”—Today many situations are opaque, but in the future everything shall be transparent before God. If that is the case, then we must begin to learn even today to be true and transparent, not attempting to pretend to be what we are not.
[Here ends the translated portion of highlights of the author’s spiritual approach to an interpretation of the holy city, New Jerusalem, taken directly from Mr. Nee’s Holy and Without Blemish (Shanghai, 1953, pp. 133-155).—Translator]
21.10 “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high”—This is in contrast to the words “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness” found in 17.3.
21.11 This city especially has the glory of God. Formerly, in the old temple, the glory of God was not too obvious since it appeared like a cloud.
“Her light was like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal”—Crystal is transparent. Today even the light of the sun is opaque, but the light of New Jerusalem in the future will be transparent.
The Gates of the City
21.12,13,21 “Having twelve gates”—According to 21.21 the street of the city is singular in number. Since there are twelve gates we would naturally assume that there should be twelve streets. Why though, is there only one street? It may possibly be that the street is like a city plaza which is open to the gates on every side.
“And at the gates, twelve angels”—The angels here are guarding the gates of the new city, not reigning over the city.
“And names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel”—Israel represents the law of God. “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls” (21.21)—Pearl stands for the righteousness of God. Together they show that the entry into the city of God is according to God’s law and righteousness.
The Height of the City
21.14-17 “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations”—According to 21.16 an angel measures the city with a golden reed: “And the city lieth foursquare, . . . twelve thousand furlongs: the length and the breadth and the height thereof are equal” (21.16); but then it is said that “he measured the wall thereof, a hundred and forty and four cubits” (21.17). How are these calculations to be reconciled? The total height of the city is 12,000 furlongs (1500 miles), while the height of the wall is 144 cubits (72 yards). The total height is measured from the bottom foundation to the throne of God. The figure of 12,000 furlongs is a multiple of 12 which is the eternally perfect number.
The wall of the city has twelve foundations. It is quite likely that they are built one upon another and that the upper level is smaller than the lower level, similar to the structure of the Egyptian pyramid. Hence all twelve layers are visible.
“And on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb”—The apostles represent the grace of God, therefore it is the grace of God which forms the foundations of the city wall.
City and Wall
21.18 “And the building of the wall thereof was jasper”—The city itself is of pure gold. Hence the gold is transparent, something quite different from ordinary gold.
21.19,20 “The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones”—There are twelve precious stones with twelve various hues.
Some suggest that the colors of these precious stones are: (1) Green, (2) Blue, (3) Blue, (4) Green, (5) Red, (6) Red, (7) Yellow, (8) Sea-green, (9) Yellow, (10) Golden green, (11) Purple, and (12) Purple.
The blending of these colors must be of exquisite beauty. The merging of the colors from (5) to (12) above will produce a rainbow-like appearance.
21.22 There is no temple in the new city. During the Old Testament period only the temple was holy, the rest of the land was not reckoned holy. At the time of the Lord Jesus the temple was still on the earth. During the church period there is a temple in heaven but none on earth. In the millennium, however, there will be a temple on earth as well as one in heaven. In the new heaven and the new earth there will no more be a temple, since there will be no need to offer sacrifice for sin. The entire new city is most holy. Formerly, men communed with God through the temple; now, all who live in the city can commune with God directly because He and the Lamb have become the center of this new city.
21.23 It is said here that there is no need for the sun and moon to shine upon the new city. It does not say, however, that there will be neither sun nor moon in the new heaven and the new earth. Having the glory of God to lighten the city and the Lamb as its lamp, the new city certainly has no need for the sun and the moon to shine upon it.
21.24 “And the nations shall walk amidst the light thereof”—All who live in the city have a resurrected body, but those who dwell on the new earth still possess a body of flesh and blood. These are the nations dwelling on the new earth, though they are no longer divided by race or tongue or tribe. These are the people who live at the end of the millennium and who are not deceived by Satan at the last revolt.
The saved in the city include all who believe in the Lord and trust in His precious blood—both during the Old and the New Testament times; for the gates of the new city have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the foundations of the city have the names of the twelve apostles.
All who live in the new city are sons (21.7), and they reign as kings (22.3). All who dwell on the new earth are those people who are transferred livingly from the millennial kingdom to be the peoples (21.3) of the new earth.
“The kings of the earth” are those who rule among the nations in eternity. They are higher in rank than the rest of the people, yet they are not the same as the kings in the city. Our Lord is the King of all kings, and we believers are kings of these kings of the earth.
“Walk” means travel. During the millennium the earthly Jerusalem will be deemed the capital of the world. The nations will travel to it once every few years. Now, in eternity, the nations will also travel to the New Jerusalem. They will be guided in their travel by the light of the city, thus they need no other guidance. (The light of the city will guide them just as the star mentioned in Matthew 2.9 guided the magi from the East.) The city itself needs no earthly light, yet the people on earth depend on the light of the city.
“And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it”—The “glory” mentioned here probably means, according to the Old Testament understanding, the best products of the lands. It is quite evident from Genesis 31 that the word “glory” there applies to property or good things on earth. In bringing their glory to the city, the nations bring in the best from their lands as offerings to God (cf. also Esther 1.4).
21.25 According to this verse there will still be night and day in the new heaven and the new earth. The kings of the earth may travel towards the new city in the daytime. In the new city, however, there is no night.
The conditions of the people in the new heaven and the new earth will be somewhat similar to the conditions of Adam and Eve before the fall. They still have a body of flesh and blood.
Five times in this book “day and night” or “night” is mentioned in connection with eternity (7.15, 14.11, 20.10, 21.25, 22.5). Therefore, there must be day and night in the new heaven and the new earth. Nevertheless, in the city there is no night, and hence the people who live there can serve God day and night. Since they have a resurrection body, they will never grow tired; thus can it be said that they are able to serve God day and night.
21.26 The peoples of the nations will follow their kings in bringing glory and honor to the city. Things work out most harmoniously.
21.27 “Anything unclean” can also be translated “anything common”, which means things that are worth nothing.
“He that maketh an abomination” refers to idol-worshipers. “A lie” points especially to witchcraft and sorcery. This does not mean that there will still be idol-worship and sorcery in eternity. It only reflects upon the fact of how clean, how solemn, and how noble is the city.
“They that are written in the Lamb’s book”—In the new heaven and the new earth dwell two kinds of people. One kind of people are those of us who have been saved through the blood of the Lord Jesus and are privileged to live in the new city; the other kind of people are those who are removed livingly from the millennial kingdom into the new heaven and the new earth, thus becoming the inhabitants of the new earth. Our names being written in the book of life, we may permanently live in the city. The inhabitants of the new earth have their names also written in the book of life, but they can only go in and out of the new city.
The style of living of these inhabitants of the new earth is very much similar to that of Adam before the fall (except that there will not be any sinning in eternity). This view of the similarity to Adam prior to the fall is backed up by the following proofs:
(1) “In the resurrection”, said the Lord, “they neither marry, nor are given in marriage” (Matt. 22.30). Only those with a resurrection body are not engaged in marriage. The inhabitants of the new earth do not have a resurrection body, therefore they will still be involved in marriage.
(2) The situation in the new heaven and the new earth is similar to that in the garden of Eden before Adam’s fall. Consequently, the inhabitants of the new earth will live and multiply as Adam did of old.
(3) Of the Ten Commandments one in part says this: “Showing loving-kindness unto a thousand generations of them that love me and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20.6 mg.). If mankind does not propagate itself over a thousand generations, how can God ever make such a promise? From Adam to the Lord Jesus there were only 76 generations (Luke 3.23-38 counts God in the genealogy, thus adding up to 77 generations). The time from Adam to Christ was about 4000 years, and in such a long period there were only 76 generations! How many generations can there have been from Christ to the present? Computing scientifically and taking 30 years as one generation, then in 2000 years there can only be 70 to 80 generations. During the millennium people will live long, hence there will be fewer generations. Now granting that there might be as many as 50 generations during the millennium, the total for these three periods will only account for 200 to 300 generations. Subtract 300 from only a thousand, we still have 700 left. How will these remaining generations ever be fulfilled? Doubtless the inhabitants of the new earth will continue to be fruitful and to multiply, except that there will be no more death.