Eternity in the New City
One of the amazing things about the Bible is the grand scope of its vision. It begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1), and it ends here with the re-creation of it all as a new heavens and a new earth. The Bible is nothing less than a history of the entire cosmos. And at each horizon of this grandeur is marriage: first the marriage of Adam and Eve, and now the wedding of the Lamb with his bride (Rev. 21:9).
Now the conflict is finally past, the victory is won, and peace descends. The sea disappears from view, for “the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt” (Isa. 57:20). It was from this seething mass of restless mankind that the beast arose (Rev. 13:1). And the angel said to John, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (Rev. 17:15). But now the people of God need no longer brace themselves against the buffeting waves of this sea of human hostility, for the danger simply is not there anymore. A settled order of human shalom finally reigns.
But the perfect world we have always dreamed of will not rise from the earth as our achievement for our own glory. It will come down from God above for his glory alone: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). After every societal failure of mankind litters the course of human history—with brief flashes of brilliance here and there, but all of them eventually slipping into decline—the holy city, the sacred society, the new Jerusalem created by the miracle of God’s grace will endure as the refuge of God’s people. This city will not weary us with noise and stress; it will not defile us with corruption and pollution. This holy city will be an experience of romance, prepared as a bride, adorned in her wedding dress for her husband, suggesting intimacy and warmth and softness and joy and love and bliss as our constant experience there. Isaiah prophesied to Jerusalem, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isa. 62:5). Even so, it shall be—and forever.
Truly, the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18). Our future is the only true measure of our present. Therefore, the prophecies of the Revelation might qualify as the most helpful parts of the Bible for struggling believers of today. That is the purpose of God’s promises—to keep lifting our hearts with the buoyant power of a sure and certain hope. And what the ancient prophecies show us is that our future glory in Christ might be more human and familiar and delightful and, in a way, earthy than we had thought. But while we wait for the fulfillment of God’s great plan, savoring by faith our future honeymoon with the Son of God, we are helped to stay true to him not by denying our sufferings but by comparing them with the glory that is to be revealed to us. One commentator puts it frankly: “Only in comparison with the new Jerusalem can the queenly splendors of Babylon be recognized as the seductive gauds of an old and raddled whore.”1 So much for this world! But it is Jonathan Edwards who draws back the veil to help us see more of the promised glory:
In that resurrection morning, when the Sun of Righteousness shall appear in the heavens, shining in all his brightness and glory, he will come forth as a bridegroom; he shall come in the glory of his Father with all his holy angels. And at that glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ shall the whole elect church, complete as to every individual member, and each member with the whole person, both body and soul, and both in perfect glory, ascend up to meet the Lord in the air, to be forever with the Lord. . . . Then will come the time when Christ will sweetly invite his spouse to enter in with him into the palace of his glory, which he had been preparing for her from the foundation of the world, and shall take her by the hand and lead her in with him; and this glorious bridegroom and bride shall, with all their shining ornaments, ascend up together into the heaven of heaven, the whole multitude of glorious angels waiting upon them; and this Son and daughter of God shall, in their united glory and joy, present themselves together before the Father; . . . and they shall together receive the Father’s blessing; and shall thenceforward rejoice together in consummate, uninterrupted, immutable and everlasting glory, in the love and embraces of each other, and in their shared enjoyment of the love of the Father.2
This article is adapted from Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel by Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.
1. G. B. Caird, A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1966), 262.
2. Jonathan Edwards, Jonathan Edwards: Sermons and Discourses, 1743–1758, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 183–84. Style updated. I thank Dr. Dane Ortlund for drawing my attention to this section of Edwards.
- Marriage in the World Today (Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.)
- What Is Marriage? (Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.)
- 2 Vital Marriage Realities (Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.)