The Holy Jerusalem
by David M. McNabb
The Holy Jerusalem
In a Christian bookstore some years ago, I was looking for study materials and workbooks for my Sunday school class. I noticed among the books one that had a picture of a cube. I began to scan through the book, only to find that it was about "Heavenly Jerusalem." I, of course, had read the description of the holy city in the 21st chapter of Revelation a number of times, and knowing the physical description in the Scriptures, I saw the absurdity of explaining this passage literally, when I saw the artist’s conception.
I have since heard and read many references to this "1500 mile" city, that will descend from heaven. Although that is roughly the equivalent distance of 12,000 furlongs, the figure used by the King James Version and original texts, it is unreasonable to believe that this city is literally 1500 miles wide, long, and high (approximately half of the distance across the U.S.), especially in light of the fact that the wall of the city is only 210 feet high.
It can only be understood, then, as a spiritual description of the holy city, which is, according to the Apostle Paul, the church. "But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven." (Heb. 12:22-23)
It is in error that many have converted the measurements to miles and feet as one would convert between metric and English to determine the volume of a bottle of soda or the boiling point of water. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, regarding the teaching method of the Spirit of God. "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:12-14)
Our Lord himself said, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63) The flesh profiteth nothing! To view the passage in Revelation 21 according to the flesh is of little or no value. The Holy Spirit revealed the city to John, and only by the same Spirit will our souls profit by the understanding of its true, spiritual meaning.
If we, therefore, desire to be taught by the Holy Ghost, we must let him "compare spiritual things with spiritual." Let us, then, turn to the Scriptures and learn what they say about Heavenly Jerusalem.
Just prior to the extensive description in Rev. 21:10-27, the angel tells John his intent. He says, "Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife." In this sermon, it is my hope that you will see that the angel did not promise to show John the bride and then change his mind, but that this city IS the bride, hidden in symbols. This same revelation that was sent and signified by Jesus’ angel unto His servant John is now available to us, to show unto us, His servants, things which must shortly come to pass.
THE HOLY JERUSALEM
Many of us have been visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses. We have heard them read and interpret passages of Revelation: particularly portions of chapters 7 and 14, regarding the 144,000. They use these passages to refer to themselves, but chapter seven specifically describes a Jewish group, as you can see from the passage itself.
"And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel." (Rev 7:1-4)
He goes on to list each tribe and says that 12,000 were numbered from each of them. The argument could possibly be made, ‘Well, we are spiritual Israel,’ and that is true. We must, however, acknowledge that we are not the twelve tribes of Israel, and He goes to great lengths to specify that these were numbered of those tribes.
After listing these 144,000, he adds, "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands." (Rev. 7:9) Apparently, there is an innumerable multitude of born again believers, above and beyond those specified as the 144,000 Jews.
Now, let us look at the other passage, found in Rev. 14. The Jehovah Witness would have you believe that this describes the same group of people, but let us carefully look at the terminology used.
"And 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. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. 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 14:1-4)
These are described as having been ‘redeemed from the earth’ and ‘redeemed from among men.’ These are not called Jews, as those in the 7th chapter. The ensuing verses describe what we all know as the time of the end: the fall of Babylon, the beast, his image, his mark, etc. These are all well-known subjects pointing to the time immediately preceding the return of our Lord. We are to understand, therefore, that these particular numbered saints live at the time of the end. The terms ‘redeemed from the earth’ and ‘redeemed from among men’ are written as a clue to give us even better understanding about these people.
DECLARING THE END FROM THE BEGINNING
Upon realizing the time frame of at least one of these two passages, and seeing that it is set in ‘the end’, we must then look to where God explains the end in Scripture. In Isa 46:9-10, God spoke through the prophet, saying, "Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done." Let us look, therefore, at the beginning.
In Genesis chapter 1, we are told of the creation. In verses 20-23, on the fifth day, God said, "‘Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.’ And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.’"
Some key points in this passage are: (1) it is the fifth day; (2) the first living creatures were created on this day; (3) all life at this time is coming forth from the sea; (4) there is, specifically, the moving creature that hath life (singular), and later, great whales and every living creature (plural).
The next day is similar, in that God continued to create living creatures.
"And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind:’ and it was so…and God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion…’ And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth…’ And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day." (Gen 1:24-31)
Some key statements made in this passage are: (1) it is the sixth day; (2) everything created on this day was a "living creature"; (3) the living things of the sixth day were formed from the earth; (4) again the phrasing states the creation of ‘the beast of the earth’ (singular), and cattle and every creeping thing (plural); (5) God made man; (6) last of all He made woman.
One might well ask, "How, pray tell, have we come to Genesis when the subject is Heavenly Jerusalem?" The word of the Lord came to Isaiah, saying, "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little." (Isa. 28:10) The Bible is not written as a novel, but one must ‘rightly divide the word of truth.’
It is widely understood in the Christian community that the 7th day of creation, the day God rested, represents the 7th millennium: the thousand year reign of Christ. "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God." (Heb 4:9) Now one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day with the Lord (2 Pet. 3:8), and the scientific community notwithstanding, most Bible-believing Christian concur that Adam lived approximately 6,000 years ago. We are therefore approaching the end of man’s allotted time, and the beginning of the Lord’s day. "Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God." (Deut. 5:13-14)
Realizing this, it is readily seen that we are nearing the end of the ‘sixth day’, Jesus and the early church walked the earth towards the start of the ‘fifth day’, and Jesus’ millennial reign takes place during the ‘seventh day’ of the world as we know it.
TWO GREAT WORKS
When Jesus called His disciples, He said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." (Matt. 4:19) Even today, one of the prominent symbols used to identify Christians is the fish. We sing songs about being fishers of men, as we wear T-shirts with the fish, and glue them to our bumpers. In Jeremiah, however, we can see why Jesus referred to his disciples as fishers. "Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks." (Jer. 16:16)
The first work of God in the grace age was fishing. That is because it was the fifth millennium: the fifth day, the day when God made everything from the sea. Nevertheless, the prophet records that after He will send hunters. In the sixth day, God created every creature from the earth. Those creatures are gathered by hunters. Because the sixth day follows the fifth, and God created fish in the fifth day, you may still fish in the sixth day. However, whereas you could not hunt in the fifth day, you can in the sixth. Therefore, if we as Christians still desire to be fishers of men, it is possible, but today’s work is being hunters of men. Jesus knew in which day He lived. Do we?
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
Having laid the groundwork, now we can open to Revelation 21.
"And 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, and 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 showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates." (Rev. 21:9-13)
The first thing I would like to point out is the gates. This city is made of two parts: the gates and the wall. Here, not only does the city have specifically 12 gates, but also we are told that there are three on each side. This is interesting to note, seeing that this is precisely the layout of the camps of the children of Israel: three on the north, three on the south, three on the east and three on the west.
Another detail expressed regarding these gates, is that there are twelve angels standing, one at each gate. That these represent Jesus’ twelve apostles is not an unreasonable deduction. When the disciples asked of the Savior what their reward would be for having ‘left all’ and following after Him, His reply was not one of rebuke for desiring something, but one of promise: "Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matt. 19:28) This promise was evidently exclusive to those twelve, because he continues, saying, "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life," (Matt. 19:29) indicating sitting upon thrones to judge the twelve tribes was reserved for His apostles, but blessing and eternal life shall be to all others who leave everything and follow Him. Skipping down to verse 21, more information on the gates is given. "And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl." Where are pearls from? They are found in the sea. Remember, all that was made from the sea was created on the fifth day. These gates symbolize that part of the church that existed in the 1st millennium A.D.
The narrative continues, in verses 16-17, giving us the dimensions of this great city. "And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel." Now, if this is describing a literal city, we have quite a discrepancy. Here we are told that the city measured 12,000 furlongs long, wide and high (about 1,500 miles) and the wall measured 144 cubits (about 210 feet) high. The difference between these two figures is overwhelming! Therefore, our conversion tables aside, let us see what the Lord is trying to tell us.
In Num. 14:33,34 God put a year for a day. And in Daniel Ch. 9, When He says 70 weeks, he could mean 70 literal weeks, 70 years, 70 weeks of years (490 years), etc. Therefore, when he says ‘70 weeks’, we must hear ‘70.’ He does the same thing with the term ‘12,000 furlongs’ and ‘144 cubits’ in Rev. 21. He does not do it expecting us to convert it to English measurements or the metric system, but so that we hear the numbers ‘12' and ‘144.' We already know the height of the wall to be 144 cubits, so in what way is the city described as 12,000 furlongs high? The only element left is the gates. Now, let’s put together all of the details about the gates: (1) there are twelve, (2) they are engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, (3) they are positioned according to the positioning of the camps of the tribes of Israel, (4) twelve (Jesus’ twelve apostles) angels stand at the gates, (5) they are made of pearls (clearly from the sea), (6) they measured in 12,000 units of measure. I, therefore, suggest that the gates symbolize the 144,000 Jews, found in chapter 7, using the following equation:
12 gates X 12,000 ‘furlongs’ = 144,000 (Jews)
Twelve angels = 12 Jewish apostles
Now, let us consider the wall. "And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof." (Rev. 21:14-15) Earlier, in verse 12, we read about a wall ‘great and high.’ Now, a little more information is added. This wall has twelve foundations, and the foundations are inscribed with the names of the Lamb’s twelve apostles.
In verses 18-20, we are given the composition of the wall and its foundations. "And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst." As the gates were made of pearls from the sea, the wall was made of the precious stones, which are mined from the earth. A similar relationship to Genesis can therefore be made, for all things created from the earth were made on day number six.
When we hear the word ‘wall’, we must realize to what is referred in conjunction with its usage. In Isaiah, we are told that "the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls" (Isa. 60:10) thus indicating that the wall will be built by the Gentiles. Furthermore, this wall had twelve foundations. Paul shows us what the foundations are in Eph. 2:19-20. "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets." And again, Abraham "looked for a city which hath foundations." (Heb. 11:10) God promised twelve Gentile apostles in Ishmael, saying, "As for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation." (Gen. 17:20) Whereas the wall represents the Gentile church, the foundations of twelve precious stones signify the apostles of it.
Now we can look at the details of the wall: (1) it has twelve foundations, (2) they are engraved with the names of the Lamb’s twelve apostles, (3) they are made of twelve precious stones (mined from the earth), (4) it is measured in 144 units of measure. If we then employ the ‘multiple principle’ as in Daniel, and put with it these elements, we can make the following equation:
The wall, which has 12 foundations of precious stones = 144,000 Gentiles
(those found in Rev. chapter 14)
Twelve precious stones = 12 Gentile apostles
To this agree the words of Jesus "glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile." By this, He showed that there are two phases of His church. In the 5th millennium, He would send forth fishers to gather the Jewish half of The Church first, and after, in the 6th millennium, He would send forth hunters to gather the Gentile half of The Church to ‘hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.’ The group made from the unification of these two halves is The Church, the ‘Bride, the Lamb’s Wife,’ as Paul says in Eph. 2:14-15, "He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace."
These 288,000, which are The Church, are foretold of allegorically in the musicians of David. "All these were under the hands of their father for song in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, psalteries, and harps, for the service of the house of God, according to the king’s order to Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman. So the number of them, with their brethren that were instructed in the songs of the Lord, even all that were cunning, was two hundred fourscore and eight (288)." (1 Chron. 25:6-7) There were not 144 singers instructed in the songs of the Lord, but twice that. Hence, the two accounts in the 7th and 14th chapters of Revelation of those which sung before the Lord. The rest of chapter 25 is dedicated to numerating the chief singers, or song leaders, although they had already been named in verses 2-4. This is done to emphasize their number: twenty-four. It is no coincidence that this is the sum of the apostles of the early and latter churches, as described in Rev. 21.
The Great Multitude
There are still those who make up the innumerable multitude. In both millennia, there are many, many believers that do not find themselves specifically numbered among the 144,000. They are prophesied of, allegorically, in the account of Joseph’s harvest. "And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same. And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number." (Gen 41:48-49) In that we are told ‘he left numbering’ shows that he did number some. We are told of the early church in a similar manner. After the church had attained unto such a manifest glory, that lying to Holy Ghost resulted in instant death, we are given the following account.
"And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.) Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one." (Acts 5:11-16)
Many people became believers, but none dared join unto that assembly, where Peter and the apostles were. If the Church is ‘the Bride’, then the innumerable multitude comprises those who are described as the guests of the wedding, the bride’s maidens, and the foolish virgins.
Salvation is not limited to 288,000, but as in the Marriage of the King’s son:
"Many are called, but few are chosen."