|Topical Bible Study||August 1954|
“THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING”
A City Comes Down from Heaven
“I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” —Revelation 21:2
IN THE symbology of the Bible a ‘city’ is often used to represent a government. That the ‘new Jerusalem’ of our text is not a literal city is apparent, from the measurements ascribed to it in verse sixteen, where we read, “He measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.” Twelve thousand furlongs is the equivalent of approximately fifteen hundred miles. A literal city fifteen hundred miles square would be most unusual, but when we are informed that this city is also as high as it is square, it becomes obvious that it is not a literal city; for such a height would extend far beyond the outer atmosphere of the earth.
A hint as to the particular symbolism of this city is given in the description which says that it is ‘prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.’ The “bride, the Lamb’s wife,” is identified for us in Revelation 21:9,10, where we read, “There came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” The ‘holy city,’ then, is the ‘bride, the Lamb’s wife.’
Here we have one symbolism explained by the use of further pictorial language, it is necessary to identify both the ‘Lamb,’ and the ‘bride,’ the Lamb’s wife. This is not difficult, particularly with respect to the Lamb, for this symbolism is introduced early in the Bible, and clearly refers to Jesus, to whom John the Baptist referred as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”—John 1:29
The thought conveyed by this symbolism is first brought to our attention in the story of the offering which righteous Abel brought to the Lord, which was from the “firstlings of his flock.” (Gen. 4:4) God was pleased with this offering and accepted it, the evident reason being that it pointed forward to the sacrifice of Jesus, who would offer his own flesh and blood for the sins of the world.—Heb. 11:4
Not long before Abel made this offering to the Lord, the human race had come under condemnation to death because of sin. When pronouncing sentence upon our first parents the Lord said to “that old serpent, … the Devil, and Satan,” that the “seed” of the woman would “bruise” its head. (Rev. 20:2; Gen. 3:15) In the light of the subsequent unfoldings of the Divine plan of salvation from sin and death, this rather vague statement is seen to imply that the reign of sin and death, in which Satan has had the power over death, would one day be overthrown, and that the results of that great tragedy in Eden would one day be set aside.
Having given this indication of his purpose, God began to illustrate the manner in which it would be accomplished. Sin had brought death, and if death was to be destroyed, provision must be made for the remission of sin; so in Abel’s offering, God began to illustrate what is clearly stated in the New Testament, that “without shedding of blood” there can be “no remission” of sin.—Heb. 9:22
The Plan Unfolds
Nearly two thousand years later God spoke to Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham, and promised that through his “seed” all the families of the earth would be blessed. (Gen. 12:3; 22:18) Here again mention of the ‘seed’ is associated with a definite promise of blessings for all mankind. In Galatians 3:16, Christ is identified as this promised “seed,” but Abraham probably thought that his son Isaac was to be the ‘seed,’ and he was indeed a type of the real seed of promise. When Isaac became a man, God requested Abraham to offer him in sacrifice. Abraham demonstrated his willingness to obey, and raised his knife to slay his son when an angel of the Lord intervened, and a lamb was used as a substitute for Isaac.
We are reminded that before this promised blessing could reach the people a loving father must give up in sacrifice his beloved son. As the plan of God unfolds we learn that the father who actually does this is our loving Heavenly Father, and that he gave his own dear Son in sacrifice. The lamb, which was used as a substitute for Isaac, would therefore picture Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God.’
The lamb symbolism is again brought to our attention in connection with Israel’s deliverance from the land of Egypt. It was the blood of the Passover lamb which afforded protection against death for the firstborn of Israel, and the next morning after they were passed over, all Israel was delivered from bondage. Paul speaks of Christ as “our passover” lamb (I Cor. 5:7); and also of the “church of the firstborn.” (Heb. 12:23) It is during the Gospel Age that the antitypical ‘firstborn’ class is protected under the blood of the Lamb of God; and, in the morning of the new age, will come the deliverance of all mankind from their bondage to sin and death.
“As a Lamb to the Slaughter”
In Isaiah 53:3-6 the suffering and death of Jesus is prophesied, and here he is likened to a “lamb” which is led “to the slaughter.” (vs. 7) In verse ten we are informed that Jesus made “his soul an offering for sin,” and that “the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” The ‘pleasure’ of the Lord is his designed blessing of all the families of the earth. It will prosper in the hands of Jesus.
John the Baptist identified Jesus as the one who had come to fulfill the prophecies and pictures of the Old Testament pertaining to the lamb. This beautiful symbolism is carried over into the Book of Revelation: “I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain.”—Rev. 5:6
Through the remainder of Revelation, the ‘Lamb’ is prominent in many of the principal events. We read, “I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” (Rev. 14:1) These shown with the Lamb on Mount Sion are the ones who collectively become his bride.
Old Jerusalem was the capital city of Israel, and Mount Sion was a part of that city. The Lamb and those who are with him are on symbolic Mount Sion, which suggests their exaltation to kingdom, or governmental authority. It is a picture leading up to the one in which John sees the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
“His Father’s Name”
This ‘hundred forty and four thousand’ are identified by John as those who have the name of the Lamb’s Father written in their foreheads, and are members of the family of God. Throughout the Gospel Age they are called out of the world to be “a people for his name.” At first the majority of those called were of Jewish descent, but not enough of these responded to make up the foreordained number, so the Lord “visit[ed] the Gentiles” to find the remainder.—Acts 15:14
They partake of the family name of God from two standpoints. Through the Holy Spirit they become the sons of God, and through the ‘marriage of the Lamb’ they become his daughters. (Ps. 45:9-11) As the bride of the king’s Son they become a queen. This language conveys the thought of rulership, and indeed it is for this purpose that they become the bride, the Lamb’s wife.
The manner in which the hundred forty and four thousand attain to their exalted position with the Lamb on Mount Sion is described, “These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.”—Rev. 14:4
In the expression, ‘not defiled with women,’ the Greek word translated ‘women’ is just as properly translated in the singular, and is so translated six times in the seventeenth chapter of Revelation in references to a certain unholy woman. Verse eighteen reads, “The woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” Concerning this same ‘woman,’ we read, “Upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.”—Rev. 17:5,6
In a further description of the unchaste characteristics of this harlot woman, verse two of this chapter declares of her, “With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” Every reference made to this woman reveals that those who associate with her are defiled. But, as the Revelator informs us, those on Mount Sion with the Lamb are ‘not defiled’ by this woman. They maintain their virginity and follow the Lamb ‘whithersoever he goeth.’
The “Unholy” City
As the bride, the Lamb’s wife, is likened to a city, the ‘holy city’ which comes ‘down from God out of heaven,’ the ‘harlot’ woman of Revelation is also said to be a city, that great city ‘Babylon.’ As the holy city comes down from God to rule over the people of the earth, great Babylon for centuries maintained control over the ‘kings of the earth,’ and through them, over the people. She was not properly married. She was not the bride of kings, therefore her rulership was unauthorized and unholy.
Paul wrote, “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” (II Cor. 11:2) All the true followers of the Lamb have gladly suffered and died with him while waiting for his return to be united with him in marriage that, together with him, they might live and reign on the earth for a thousand years.
Throughout the age there came into being a large group of professed followers of the Lamb who did not wait for his return to be united with him in his kingdom. Instead, these united themselves with the kings of the earth and set up a kingdom of their own. This was an unholy union.
The “Beast” and the “Lamb”
There is still another contrasting picture presented to us in the Book of Revelation; namely, the “beast” and the Lamb. There is, of course, a leopardlike beast, a two-horned beast, an “image” of the beast, and, in chapter seventeen, a “scarlet coloured beast.” (ch. 13:1,2,11,14; 17:3) The harlot woman is shown riding on the scarlet colored beast. Later she is destroyed by the “horns” of the beast.—ch. 17:16
Since the bride becomes a reigning queen through union with the Lamb, so the harlot woman professes to be a “queen” (Rev. 18:7) through her unholy union with the “kings of the earth.” (Rev. 17:2) In this unchaste exaltation of rulership, the professed kingdom of Christ has persecuted—frequently even unto death—those who faithfully have followed ‘the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.’ Concerning the beastly system with which the woman was associated, we read, “It was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.”—Rev. 13:7
This power to ‘make war with the saints, and to overcome them,’ was not to last indefinitely. We are informed that ultimately, when this beast and those with him “make war with the Lamb, … the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.”—Rev. 17:14
Here, in a few words, is described the great victory scene when the Lamb, and those previously shown with him on Mount Sion, overcome the forces of unrighteousness which, throughout the age, have opposed God, and under the leadership of Satan have endeavored to destroy the ‘seed of promise.’ Following this scene of triumph the symbolic narratives in the closing chapters of Revelation show the overthrow of all institutions of unrighteousness, and the way thus cleared for the establishment of Christ’s kingdom.
Each of the three closing chapters of the book presents a different picture of the kingdom and the blessing it will shower upon the sin-cursed and dying race. Chapter twenty opens by saying that an “angel”—a powerful messenger which is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ himself, the Lamb—comes “down from heaven,” and lays hold on ‘that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan’ and binds him “a thousand years.” (vss. 1,2) Later in the chapter we learn that at the close of the thousand years Satan is destroyed.—vs. 10
Verse four portrays those who, throughout the Gospel Age, have suffered and died with Christ. These are the ones who have followed the Lamb, walking in his footsteps faithfully even unto death. They are not defiled by that woman, and it is because of this that they are shown in chapter 14:1 to be with the Lamb on Mount Sion, having the Father’s name written in their foreheads. In the twentieth chapter and fourth verse, we are told that they did not worship the “beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
The spurious words of verse five—“But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished”—have hindered many from seeing the beautiful sequence of the Divine plan as revealed in this chapter. Following the “first resurrection” (vs. 5) of those who live and reign with Christ, and, as the Divinely designed work of the kingdom reign, we see “the dead, small and great, stand before God;” and we see “death and hell” giving up their dead. (vss. 11-13) Finally, we see death itself destroyed in the symbolic “lake of fire.”—vs. 14
In his Word, God had promised that the seed, the Messiah, would ultimately ‘bruise’ the ‘serpent’s head.’ He also promised that death and hell (sheol—Hebrew translation / hades—Greek translation) would be destroyed. (Hos. 13:14) The twentieth chapter of Revelation assures us of the fulfillment of these promises.
The twenty-first chapter emphasizes the fulfillment of other kingdom promises. In Isaiah 65:17-25 there is a prophecy saying that God would create “new heavens and a new earth.” There would be “no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days.” This language suggests a greatly increased life span.
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.” (Rev. 21:1) John, in vision thus saw the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah foretold the creation of a new Jerusalem in conjunction with his prophecy of the ‘new heavens and a new earth,’ so John sees this new Jerusalem “coming down from God out of heaven.” Rev. 21:2
Isaiah’s prophecy indicates a phenomenal lengthening of life as a result of these new kingdom arrangements, and so did John see this in his vision. Indeed, as John saw this feature of the prophecy fulfilled, he said, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”—vs. 4
In verse three John writes, “I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” There are so many precious promises of God scattered throughout his Word, assuring us of his love for mankind and the wonderful provisions he has made to restore the human race to his favor and give all an opportunity to live forever, that no one symbolism is adequate to depict all that is involved.
God’s Tabernacle, which he instructed Moses to build, represented his presence with the nation of Israel. Through the various services of the Tabernacle the Israelites received the blessings of God. God’s favor will be with the people, and he will dwell with them, will be their God and they will be his people.
By the Power of God
The ‘angel’ which binds Satan comes ‘down from heaven,’ (Rev. 20:1) and the holy city, the new Jerusalem, comes down from God out of heaven, emphasizing the fact that the glorious kingdom solution of all the problems posed by sin and selfishness is of Divine origin, and accomplished by Divine power. This language portrays the fact of Divine intervention, and nothing apart from such intervention can save mankind from ultimate complete destruction. All the various symbolisms employed in Revelation to portray the establishment of the kingdom are designed to help us understand all the rich blessings which are in store for a sin-sick and weary world. How glad we should be that the fulfillment of God’s promises does not depend upon man! Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) Certainly it has not been functioning throughout the present age, nor will it be the outgrowth of human efforts.
In a prophecy referring to the “increase” of Christ’s kingdom, showing that it would become all-embracing, we read, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isa. 9:6,7) Daniel 2:44 informs us that “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom.” All the prophecies pertaining to the kingdom assure us that its triumphant establishment and victorious reign in no way depend upon the frail arm of flesh.
The River of Life
The last chapter of Revelation presents still another view of the kingdom and its blessings, but harmonizing beautifully with those shown in the two preceding chapters. John says, “He shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” The ‘throne’ symbolizes the governmental authority and power of the Divine kingdom. The association of the ‘Lamb’ symbolism emphasizes that the blessings of the kingdom are made available through the blood of the Redeemer—the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”—John 1:29
These foretold kingdom blessings are pictured as ‘a pure river of water of life.’ The second verse reads, “In the midst of the street of it [the river], … was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” The next verse reads, “There shall be no more curse [the curse of sin and death]: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him.”
The seventeenth verse reads, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Thus we see that the bride, the Lamb’s wife, united with the Lamb is shown to be the holy city, and will extend to ‘whosoever will’ the glorious opportunity of receiving the life-giving blessings of the kingdom, provided by the death of the Lamb.
What a glorious prospect! And what an incentive to now follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, that we might be with him on Mount Sion of the New Jerusalem, having proved worthy to be a member of the bride class, when the marriage of the Lamb takes place, and his wife hath made herself ready.