The eternal destiny of the people of God will be holy new Jerusalem. John the Revelator informs concerning a vision he had, “I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21.2 NRSV). When will this happen? I think it will occur at the second coming of Christ. This is indicated by mention of the bride, which is the church, being made ready for her husband, who is Jesus Christ. Thus, this holy city is associated with the people of God of all ethnicities and of all ages.
This is not the first time the Bible tells about this great city that will someday come down out of heaven toward earth. The Apostle Paul says of God’s people, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3.20). He says in another letter, “you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2.19). Indeed, we are pilgrims in this world but not of it, yearning for our eternal home.
Jesus spoke of our eternal home when he said at the Last Supper, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…. I go [there] and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself” (John 14.2-3), referring to his second coming. The Father’s house is holy New Jerusalem.
The author of Hebrews also tells about this city. He says the people of God “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God … has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11.16). He says Abraham “looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (v. 10). He adds, “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels” (12.22). So, either the heavenly New Jerusalem is also called Mount Zion or the New Jerusalem is a part of Mount Zion.
But this Mount Zion to which the author of Hebrews refers is now located in heaven. Earthly Mount Zion, where the earthly city of Jerusalem now resides, was named after heavenly Mount Zion. For God makes and names some things on earth according to the pattern of things in heaven (e.g., Exodus 25.9, 40). For instance, the author of Hebrews explains concerning the “sanctuary” that was in the temple at earthly Jerusalem, “that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one” (Hebrews 8.5).
John the Revelator goes on to describe in some detail the holy city, New Jerusalem, that will come down out of heaven from God. He says, “the city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width;… fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal” (Revelation 21.16).
John does not explicitly state the shape of the holy city. Many of the most prominent commentators on the book of Revelation in recent times interpret its dimensions in Rev 21.16 as being about 1,500 miles each for its width, length, and height and that the city is cube-shaped. These commentators include G. K. Beale (A Shorter Commentary, p. 482), John F. Walvoord (p. 323), George E. Ladd (p. 282), G. R. Beasley-Murray (p. 322), David E. Aune (p. 1160), Grant R. Osborne (p. 752), and Craig A. Koester (p. 830). Osborne adds a caveat (as does Walvoord), “unless it is to be seen as a pyramid, as some [scholars] have suggested, although that is doubtful since there is no hint of such.”
Now, John the Revelator had this vision of New Jerusalem during the first century CE. Thus, whatever he says about measuring this city’s dimensions should be understood according to how cities were measured during antiquity. I state in my book, The Third Day Bible Code (p. 89), “Ancient cities usually were measured in size by their circumference.” Plus, large cities during antiquity had a wall of defence surrounding them, and it was that wall that was measured.
Interestingly, New Jerusalem has a wall surrounding it (Rev 21.17). So, Rev 21.16 likely means that the wall surrounding New Jerusalem is “foresquare” and that it is about 1,500 miles in circumference. The text says, “The city lies foursquare,” meaning its base which is surrounded by the wall. Accordingly, each of the four sides of the base of New Jerusalem are 375 miles in length, not 1,500 miles as commonly understood. And, of course, the height of the city is 375 miles as well, not 1,500 miles.
It is surprising that none of the scholars cited above consider this method of measurement or that these dimensions in Rev 21.16 could describe a mountain just as much as a cube. This is especially so since a mountain is the more reasonable shape among the three possible choices of a cube, pyramid, or mountain. Moreover, we have seen that the author of Hebrews associates “heavenly Jerusalem” with heavenly “Mount Zion” (Hebrews 12.22). And John the Revelator informs us he received this vision of the city when an angel “carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem” (Rev 21.10). So, John associates the city with a mountain, which further suggests that the city is shaped like a mountain. That is how Clarence Larkin conceived it as he drew the image, attached here, that he included in his book Dispensational Truth (p. 148).
Some of the above scholars mention the holy of holies in the temple at earthly Jerusalem since it was cube-shaped, as if that supports their interpretation of the shape of New Jerusalem. But a sanctuary is not a city, and it is so miniscule compared to any city, much less this massive city that its shape seems irrelevant. What makes this more irrelevant is that John says there is “no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21.22). If this heavenly city New Jerusalem has no temple, apparently it has no sanctuary; for the sanctuary is located in the temple.
The Bible constantly identifies God as “the Most High,” which should be understood literally. That is, in heaven God is higher than anyone else, except for the Lamb, Jesus, sitting alongside him. God being Most High symbolizes that he is Almighty. When John the Revelator says of heavenly New Jerusalem, “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it” (Revelation 22.3), he means the throne will be located at the top of the holy city. But if the top of the city is a level plane, as with a cube, other beings could be situated in countless locations on this plane and thereby be as high as God and the Lamb seated on God’s throne.
When holy New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven from God, where will it be located? The book of Revelation does not say. Most Bible readers assume it will be located on the earth. If so, a city 375 miles on each of its four sides at its base would seem too large for it to be located on earth. Also, its walls will be 216 feet (144 cubits, Rev 21.17) wide, yet we are not told how high they will be. If they are part of the cube-shaped city, making these walls 1,500 miles high, the earth could not support such a massive, physical wall, and therefore it surely would sink drastically. Furthermore, the text does not say the city is physical, which is often assumed. Since it comes down “out of heaven from God,” it likely is not physical because heaven is not physical but spirit. Thus, New Jerusalem likely is not physical but spirit as well. These are some reasons I don’t think New Jerusalem will be located on the earth. Rather, I think it will hover about the earth, over earthly Jerusalem. Perhaps it will serve as a shield from the sun as did the pillar of cloud by day over the Israelites as they journeyed in the wilderness (Exodus 13.21). Yet we are told that it will not need the light of the sun and moon since the source of its light will God and the Lamb.
Accrodingly, during the eschaton there will be an earthy Jerusalem and a heavenly Jerusalem that hovers above it, with some type of corridor joining the two. I think this corridor is indicated by Jacob’s dream he had at Bethel about a “ladder” (better “ramp”) reaching up to heaven, which he called “the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28.12-19; cf. 35.6-15). This ramp symbolizes Jesus because he told Nathanael and the other new disciples, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1.51). That will happen at the parousia, that is, the second coming. And the Apostle Paul may shed light on this cosmic union by saying of Jesus, “through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Colossians 1.20).
Of course, this is somewhat speculative, but I have other reasons. One is that the Prophet Ezekiel ends his book with a large section of nine chapters, in Ezekiel 40–48, that describe earthly Jerusalem during the eschaton. It will be a walled city, foursquare, only about 2.6 miles in circumference, with a holy district that includes a temple and a sanctuary. Obviously, this city cannot be the same as that city which John describes in Revelation 21–22.
Another one of my reasons is that God promised to give Israel a large section of land, and it came to be called the Promised Land. The Old Testament has several different narratives about the boundaries of this land. It is difficult to determine some of these boundaries largely because the ancient place-names are unknown to us. But one of the early descriptions, given to Abraham, says that the somewhat south-north dimension of the entire Promised Land will stretch “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15.18). In the past, it has commonly been thought that “the river of Egypt” refers to the Nile River. But this is quite wrong. “The river of Egypt” in the Old Testament always refers to the Wadi el Arish. It was the usual northeastern border of ancient Egypt. The “river Euphrates” refers to that portion of the Euphrates River that runs through Syria.
Interestingly, the distance from the Wadi el Arish to the Euphrates River in Syria is about 375 miles. So, I am inclined to think that the holy New Jerusalem will hover exactly over the Promised Land and perhaps no more.