#8. We Shall See His Face (Revelation 21-22)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (34:03)

In this miniature, St. Augustine (354-430 AD) sees his own vision of the City of God, coming down out of heaven from God. Larger image.

Revelation's scenes of hardship, persecution, and judgment now fade to the background. The final chapters bring into sharp focus the joy of God's people in God's presence. Much here is symbolic language, not literal, so don't expect all the figures to match exactly. John is expressing heavenly, spiritual realities in human language that has literally no words to describe them. In part, he is describing God's incredible love for his church, pictured here as the City of God. Relax and enjoy this vision's beauty, clarity, and promise for you in the words that tumble from John's pen.

The New Jerusalem (21:1-27)

21:1 "A new heaven and a new earth" (20:11; 21:5; Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Romans 8:19-23; 2 Peter 3:13). The conclusion of the last book in the Bible reveals the completion of those elements begun in Genesis, the book of beginnings. See some of the comparisons:



1:1 God created the heavens and the earth

21:1 God creates a new heaven and a new earth

1:14-19 God creates the sun and moon.

21:23 City has no need of sun or moon, glory of God, Lamb, its light.

3:23 Paradise is lost

2:7; 22:2-3 Paradise is restored

3:8 Man flees and hides from God

21:3; 22:4 Full communion with God is restored

3:22 Tree of life denied Adam

2:7; 22:14 Tree of life offered man

3:l-7 Satan deceives man

20:10 Satan is destroyed

21:1 "Had passed away." The method is purging by fire. See 2 Peter 3:10-13.

"The sea was no more." The sea was associated with ideas of evil and rebellion (13:1; 17:1, 15; Isaiah 57:20).

21:2 "The holy city, new Jerusalem" = the Bride, the wife of the Lamb (21:9-10; 3:12; Hebrews 12:22-24). Jerusalem is more than an actual physical city now, but a symbol of the Church in its perfected and eternal state. "The consummation of the Christian hope is supremely social ... life in the redeemed community of heaven" (Hunter). A number of times in the Bible the people of God are represented as a city. Moreover, Jerusalem or Zion becomes a symbol for God's people (Isaiah 26:1; 40:1, 9; Psalm 48; Galatians 4:26; Revelation 12:22-23). Augustine's famous work on the church is entitled The City of God. Jerusalem -- always the center of Old Testament prophecy -- now finds fulfillment.

21:3 "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men." As with many features of these two chapters, what is true of the Christian today in part will be made complete in that day. Now we have an "earnest" or "down payment" of the Spirit, "the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it" (Ephesians 1:13-14. See also John 14:23; Ezekiel 37:27; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; 6:16).

Q1. (21:3-5) What is the significance of the fact that in heaven "God himself will be with them"? Why can the promises in 21:4 only be fulfilled in heaven?  Which of these do you especially look forward to?




21:4 Every cause of sorrow shall be past and unremembered forever. Hallelujah! (7:15; 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54; Isaiah 25:8; 35:10; 65:19).

21:6 "To the thirsty ... the water of life without payment" (Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 22:17; John 4:10-14; 7:37-39). This reference is the source of the '70s praise chorus "Come to the Waters" by Marsha Stevens.

Q2. Read Revelation 21:6; 22:17; and Isaiah 55:1-3. What does the "water of life" represent here and in 22:1? In what sense is it a "free gift" (22:17). In what ways should "the Spirit and the Bride" (22:17) extend that invitation in your community?




21:7 "To him who conquers." Here is another in the line of promises to all true Christians, offered at the ending of each of the letters to the seven churches (chapters 2-3). Those who conquer are those who are brave in the face of persecution and faithful unto death (12:11) and have not denied their Lord.

21:8 "The cowardly, the faithless ..." Those who deny their Lord face the same punishment as the unbelievers of the earth (Matthew 10:22, 32; 13:21; 2 Timothy 2:12; Mark 8:35).

"Fornicators ... liars." If we adopt the world's standards instead of our Messiah's, we share the world's fate (18:4). Many Christians used to partake in these sins, but we have been washed, cleansed, and forgiven (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

21:9 "One of the seven angels" (17:1). The one who introduced the scarlet Prostitute of Babylon now introduces the pure Bride of the Lamb. What a contrast!

"I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb" (see notes on 21:2 above). Christ is not married to a city any more than the Church is married to a Lamb. These are symbols of spiritual realities. The greatness, glory, and grandeur of God's Church are described using symbolism of a bride. In Ephesians 5:27 we see the Church "in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind -- yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish" (NRSV). In Revelation 21 she is pictured as a perfect city.

21:12 "Twelve gates" represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Here is the basis of the gospel song, "Twelve Gates to the City, Hallelujah."

21:14 "Twelve foundations" represent the 12 apostles. The gates and the foundations are the prototype of God's Old and New Testament churches, respectively. This is the same symbolism as the 24 elders (4:4).

21:15 "Measuring rod" (11:1; Ezekiel 40:3; Zechariah 2:1).

21:16 "Foursquare" (KJV, NRSV) or "square" (NIV), that is, perfect.

"12,000 stadia," if you were to take it literally, would be about 1,400 miles in each dimension -- a giant cube. A cube was the shape of the holy of holies of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:20), the place of divine presence. The dimensions are not to be taken literally or visually, however, but symbolically (12 x 1000).

21:17 "Wall, 144 cubits," or about 216 feet. If you take this literally it is all out of proportion for a city so immense, but it is symbolic: 12 x 12 = 144.

21:18 "The city was pure gold, clear as glass." Gold is not clear, no matter how pure. Again we are to look symbolically, not visually. Gold = great value. Clear glass = purity.

21:19 "Adorned with every jewel." The twelve stones correspond with most of the stones in the high priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:17-20).

21:22 "Its temple is the Lord God and the Lamb" (7:15; Ezekiel 40-46). Symbol has now given way to reality. The inhabitants don't need a place of worship or sacrifice, for the Object of all worship is present and the great Sacrifice himself is there.

21:23 "No need of sun or moon." (Isaiah 60:1-3, 19; Zechariah 14:7). The Shekinah presence of God is enough. (See John 1:4, 9, 14.)

21:24 "The kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it." This is the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophetic theme (Isaiah 60:3-5, 11-14; 66:12).

21:25 "Its gates shall never be shut" (Isaiah 60:11). There is no enemy to protect against or exclude.

21:27 "Nothing unclean shall enter." Finally, "Jerusalem" shall be a holy city (Joel 3:17; Isaiah 35: 8-10; 52:11; Ezekiel 44:9).

21:27 "The Lamb's book of life" (3:5; 13:8; 20:12; 20:15; Philippians 4:3; Luke 10:20). This concludes an Old Testament theme of those who are recorded for life (Exodus 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3; Ezekiel 13:9; Daniel 12:1).

Q3. (Revelation 22:9-27)  John's vision of the Holy City is obviously strongly symbolic. But the Holy City pictures "the bride, the wife of the Lamb" (22:9-10; 21:21:2). What does John's vision of the Holy City tell us about the way that Jesus looks at his Church?






Q4. Three times in these two chapters, John stresses that those who continue to practice sin will not enter. Read Revelation 21:8, 27; 22:14-15; and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. What things in these passages point to salvation by the grace of God rather than mere salvation by right living? In what way is holy living important to salvation? Why is holy living important to God?




The River of Life (22:1-6)

The theme of the river that flows from the God's throne is the focus of an old Gospel hymn by Robert Lowry (1864), "Shall We Gather at the River?" The refrain goes:

"Yes, we'll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river,
Gather with the saints at the river, that flows by the throne of God."

22:1 "The river of the water of life ... from the throne" (7:17; 21:6; 22:17; Genesis 2:10; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Zechariah 14:8; Joel 3:18).

22:2 "The tree of life" is nourished by the water of life. This refers back to the Garden of Eden's promise before the Fall (Genesis 3:22-24; Ezekiel 47:12). The promise of this fruit is the promise of eternal life (2:7; 22:14).

"Leaves ... for the healing of the nations" (Ezekiel 47:12). Here is a promise of complete relief from physical disease and suffering, as well as peace between peoples.

22:4 "They shall see his face." Final intimacy is allowed in heaven's holiness. Moses was allowed only to see "God's backside" (Exodus 33:20-23). To see God in an unholy state would mean instant death (Genesis 32:30; 16:13; Exodus 24:10-11; 33:20; Judges 13:21-22; Isaiah 6:5). But this is the promise to the pure in heart (Matthew 5:8), and its hope brings purity to our lives (1 John 3:2-3).

Jesus Is Coming (22:7-21)

22:7 "Behold, I am coming soon" (1:3; 3:11; 22:12) . We must be ready.

22:10 "Do not seal up the words" (compare Daniel 8:26).

22:11 "Let the evildoer still do evil" (Daniel 12:10; Ezekiel 3:27). There will come a time when it will be too late for repentance. At the present time the invitation of 22:17 is still open.

22:12 "My reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work" (Isaiah 40:10; 62:11). Judgment, justice at last. God gives rebellious man only so much rope. There is a day He will pull in the line.

22:14 "Wash their robes" -- that is, repent and turn to Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing. (7:14). Verses 11 and 14-15 show the contrast, the eventual division of the righteous and the wicked.

22:14 "Enter the city by the gates" recalls John 10:1-2.

22:16 "This testimony for the churches." We return now to the seven churches that have not been mentioned since chapter 3.

"I am the root and the offspring of David" --that is, the true Messiah (5:5; Isaiah 11:1, 10; Romans 1:3).

"The bright morning star" (Numbers 24:17; Revelation 2:28). The morning star is a promise that the long night of tribulation is all but over and that the new, unending Day is about to dawn.

22:17 "Come!" This is a final invitation from the Holy Spirit and the Church, echoed by those who take heed and quench their thirst with the water of life. There is still time to come, but it cannot be counted on to remain long.

"Take the water of life without price" (21:6; Isaiah 55:1). Some people see in revelation only harsh, unremitting judgment. But the vision ends with grace offered freely to all. Grace is seen as the only way to life. Revelation does not teach salvation by works. But it does teach the necessity of repudiating any other way of life except embracing Jesus, who alone supplies grace and salvation.

22:18 The curse as stated applies specifically to this Book of Revelation, not to the 66 books of the canonical Scripture.

22:20 "He who testifies to these things..." -- Jesus. Revelation purports to be a revelation from Jesus Christ himself, as seen and recorded by John (1:1-2). To ignore the message of Revelation is to ignore the teaching of Jesus himself to his Church.

22:20 "Come, Lord Jesus." A promise and a response from Christ's people. If we love the world and the things in the world (1 John 2:15), we want to put off His return. But the Church and the earth have groaned too long under bondage, decay, persecution, death (Romans 8:18-25). Let us be ready, let us be those "who have loved his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8). "Come, Lord Jesus" is the equivalent of the ancient Aramaic watchwords which close 1 Corinthians (16:22) -- "Maranatha!"

Q5. (Revelation 22:20) If you were convinced that Jesus Christ would return in your lifetime, how would it affect your life? What would you do differently than you do now?



22:21 "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people." Revelation is terrible in its vision of judgment, but rich in its offer of and appreciation of grace. Jesus the Redeemer is seen as the Lamb of God (chapter 5; John 1:29), the Lamb that God himself sent to die for our sins and take them away from us.

Knowing what we know, we will either fall down and worship him or turn away and face his judgments. My prayer for you, my friend, is that you come to know this Lamb. That your name is written in his Book of Life. And that you receive the grace of God that rests upon his people.


Father, these chapters paint such a scene of peace, of rest, of resolution, of reward and happiness. You have promises for us to encourage us while we experience persecutions and hardships. And we look forward to that time when we can be so much in your immediate presence that we are fully immersed in you. In Jesus' name we hope and pray. Amen.

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Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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