David Jeremiah - The Heavenly City
We've been talking about heaven and we've had some great discoveries because, as many of you know, we don't ever talk about heaven. We're gonna spend eternity there but we don't know anything about it. And so we've been trying during these days to teach everything the Bible has to say about heaven, what you always wanted to know about heaven. And today, I wanna tell you about "The Heavenly City".
Donna and I have been all over the world and we have visited many beautiful cities. But we have yet to find a city that we like better than the one we come home to at the end of our journey. After spending my early life in a little village in Ohio called Cedarville, I discovered the big city when I went away to seminary in Dallas, Texas. This is where Donna and I began our marriage and this is where I became a confirmed city boy. Do you know, our world is so filled with great cities. If you rank cities in the order of land space here in the United States, I bet you wouldn't guess what's the largest city.
Well, I didn't guess it. It's Juneau, Alaska. It covers 3081 square miles, 2500 of 'em are land and 480 of 'em are water. Juneau is larger than the entire state of Delaware. It's the largest land city in America. The largest city in the lower 48 states is Jacksonville, Florida: 800 square miles. The biggest city in USA from the standpoint of population is the Big Apple, New York, New York. Now we consider New York to be a huge city but there are ten cities throughout the world that have more people than New York City. According to the experts, by the year 2030, over 60% of the world's inhabitants will be living in cities. Rural living is disappearing in our culture today.
So it's not surprising when we know all of that that Almighty God is designing a city as part of his ultimate plan for his children. And that city God is building will dwarf the cities of today. Eleven times in the book of Revelation, chapters 21 and 22, we find the word "city". It's the place where God and his people will live together. It's not a figure of speech but a reference to an actual physical place. And since we will be in our physically resurrected bodies when we live in that city, we will need a physical city to live in. It's not some dream place. It's not some idea. It's an actual place. The heavenly Jerusalem is a city.
Now this is not something that should surprise us because the longing for a city has been around way back from the time of Abraham. We read in Hebrews 11 about Abraham that he looked for a city "whose builder and maker was God". And the Hebrew Christians were told in Hebrews chapter 12 that they were to "come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem". Paul mentions this city in his letter to the Galatians. He calls it "the Jerusalem above," and in Revelation 3:12, it's referred to as, "the city of my God, and the New Jerusalem".
Many theologians believe that the New Jerusalem is the crown of the new creation of God. But the New Jerusalem is not really heaven per se. The New Jerusalem is a city that is in heaven. Revelation 21:2 says: "Then I, John, saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband". We read in Revelation, chapter 21, in verse 2, that this holy city was made ready and it came down out of heaven from God. And the phrase "made ready" implies that the New Jerusalem has already been completed by this time. John does not say that he saw the New Jerusalem created. He says he saw the New Jerusalem coming out of the heavens and, since God dwells in the third heaven as we've already learned, we can conclude that he is preparing this city up in the third heaven to eventually become the capital city of heaven and that final abode of his children. Revelation 3:12 calls it again, "the city of my God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven".
Let me just give you this picture for a moment before I describe this any further. One day, the city God is building up in the third heaven is going to descend and, during the millennium, it will hover over the earth and then during the eternal state it will rest upon the ground and it will be the most incredible city anyone has ever, ever envisioned. It is this city that the Lord was talking about when he said to his disciples, "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also".
What is the Lord Jesus doing now? He's working on our place. Some people call it a mansion. Call it what you will, it is the part of that future that God has for us that is under construction right now and when it is finished and it's time for it to come into play, we're going to learn how all of this will happen. I wanna talk with you first of all about the size of this city. Has anyone ever said to you, "How in the world is heaven ever gonna be a big enough place so that all the Christians from all time will be able to live there"?
Well, whenever one asks me a question like that, I think they might over-estimate a bit how many Christians there really are. You know the old saying, "A lot of people talking about heaven ain't going there". But it's gonna have to be a pretty massive place. Well, let me get this into your mind and heart today. Heaven is going to be the most phenomenal place, this city of God, that you've ever heard of. In Revelation chapter 21, look down at verses 15 and 16 and notice: "And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lies foursquare, and the length is as broad as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, 12,000 furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal".
Now, the phenomenal size of this city is one of the reasons that many try to spiritualize it and just dismiss it. It is a city so far beyond what you can imagine that I'm gonna have to use illustrations that I can conceive of to give you some idea of the size of this place. F.W. Boreham was a brilliant and popular essayist and preacher who gave careful consideration to the size and capacity of the new city. In one of his writings he tells the story of an Australian engineer by the name of Tamus who was one of his parishioners and he was talking with this engineer about the new city and I wanna read to you their discussion so that you can get a picture of what I'm talking about.
'Did you ever think,' he said, 'about the size of the city God has prepared?' And without waiting for a reply, he proceeded to reveal the significance of his statistics. 'Man, it's amazing,' he said, 'it's astounding. It beats everything I've ever heard of. John says that each of the walls of the city measure 12,000 furlongs. Now, if you work that out,' and he bent over his notebook, 'it will give you an idea that each one of the walls and the cube of it, they're all 1400 miles. Between 1400 and 1500 miles. And the ground floor square mile is 2,250,000 square miles on the first level. Did you ever hear like that? London covers an area of 140 square miles. The city foursquare is 2,250,000 square miles on the first floor. This city is 20 times as big as all of New Zealand. It's ten times as big as Germany. It's ten times as big as France. It's 40 times as big as all of England. It is ever so much bigger than India. Why, it's an enormous continent all by itself. I had no idea of it,' he said, 'until I went with the figures.' He would allow no comment at this stage. 'Wait a minute,' he pleaded, 'I've been going into the matter of population. And it's even more wonderful still. Look at this. Working it out on the basis of the number of people to the square mile in the city of London, the population of the city foursquare comes out at 100,000 million, 70 times the present population of the entire globe.'
Another writer has compared it to the United States and he says, "If you compare the New Jerusalem to the United States, you would measure from the Atlantic Ocean coastal line and westward. It would mean a city from the furthest Maine to the furthest Florida and from the shore of the Atlantic to Colorado. And from the United States Pacific coast eastward, it would cover the United States as far as the Mississippi River with the line extending north through Chicago and continuing on the west coast of Lake Michigan up to the Canadian border". All the cities of the world are mere villages compared to the city God is preparing.
Now, some of you say, "Pastor Jeremiah, that is so out of sight and so off my radar screen, I can't imagine it". Well, if Almighty God is saving his best 'til last and his final creation is of this new city would you not expect it to be the most phenomenal thing you could imagine? Somebody says, "Well, how is God gonna drop a city like that out of heaven"? Well, with the same power that he had when he spoke a word and the world came to be. The same power that he had when he spoke a word and the Creation was born. This is finger work for God. I believe he can do it. And if he says in his Word that he's going to do it, he's gonna do it.
Now, let me just tell you that this is only the first floor we're talking about. Because this is a foursquare city. It's as long as it is wide and it's as high as it is long. So it's not only 1500 miles on each side but, watch this, it's 1500 miles up into the air. And someone has measured out a rather normal space for floors in between and he said there could be 600 stories or 600 floors in the city. You say, "Well, Pastor Jeremiah, how in the world are we gonna get around in a city like that"? Did you forget about your new body? That you don't have to use normal transportation? All you gotta do is say, "I wanna be on the 600th floor in room 7". Zap, you're there, because you have a glorified body that works like the body of the Lord Jesus, right?
So transportation's not gonna be a problem. I want you to get some idea of the nature and dimension of this city. It is beyond anything I've ever dreamed of or imagined or even understood. It is so great that only God could be its architect and, remember, the Scripture says, "This is a city whose builder and maker is God". Now, notice, it is a city like a cube. It is a cube city. Did you know that the holy of holies inside the tabernacle is 20 by 20 by 20? And many people believe that the New Jerusalem is a huge holy of holies. As was the sacred inner sanctuary in the temple of God, it perfectly fits the truth that this city will be the very place in which God makes his dwelling. Look down at your Bible for just a moment, and notice how interesting is verse 3 of chapter 21: "And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, Behold," watch this, "the tabernacle of God is with men". The holy of holy of God's will be that new city, the city of Jerusalem.
Well, that's all the time I have to tell you about the dimensions of the city, except that it is larger than anything you can imagine. It is more brilliant than anything you can dream of. And so let's talk about the inside of the city for just a moment, and I wanna take seven things that John tells us in these two chapters and just touch on them briefly. There are things that you have heard and I wanna clarify the reality of them. Most of the time, when a person does not believe the Bible or he's a skeptic as far as the Bible is concerned, when anything seems unreasonable to him, he rationalizes and says, "It's symbolic".
One of the reasons why the allegorical interpretation of the Bible grew so rapidly during the rationalistic age is because people refused to believe that God was capable of doing anything that was not explainable through human rational process. But if you go there, you're dead after verse 1 of Genesis. "In the beginning God". If you can't get past Genesis 1, you've got no place to go. And if God can create the heaven and the earth, he can do anything he pleases. And when he says in this Book that this is what he is creating for the end of time, I choose to believe it because the only alternative is to spiritualize away all of the truth of the Scripture which leaves you nowhere.
So the Bible begins to tell us what it's gonna be like inside the city. First of all, verse 2 of chapter 21 says it's a holy city: "Then I, John, saw the holy city". The chief characteristic of this city into which we will one day move is it's holy. Donna and I just returned from a little trip and we've been in some big cities. I promise you, they're not holy. San Diego is a beautiful city. San Diego is not a holy city. But in that city, there will be nothing that is unholy. In the Wycliffe Bible commentary, it is described like this: "A holy city will be one in which no lie will be uttered in 100 million years. No evil word will ever be spoken. No shady business deals will ever be discussed. No unclean picture will ever be seen. No corruption of life will ever be manifest. It will be holy because everyone in it will be holy".
You can't get into the holy city unless you are born again and you've gone to heaven. Heaven is the place of the holy city. Not only is it a holy city, but the Bible says it's a place where the gates are made out of pearl. You know, we didn't just make this up. This is not folklore. This is right from the Bible. Notice verse 12, verse 17, and verses 18 and 21 in Revelation chapter 21: "And she had a great and high wall, with 12 gates, and 12 angels at the gates, and the names written on them, which are the names of the 12 tribes of the children of Israel. Then he measured its wall: 144 cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. And the construction of the wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. And the 12 gates were 12 pearls," now watch this, "each individual gate was of one pearl".
And I know some of you are thinking, "Now, Pastor, that's some kind of an oyster". Again, is God limited to the building of a pearl by an oyster? I don't think so. And if he wanted to make an oyster that big, he could do it. But it doesn't say anything about how this happened. It just says it's there. As we look at the 12 gates of pearl, we see the names of the 12 tribes of Israel inscribed, and the 12 gates are really a part of a wall that surrounds the city. And John sees this whole wall like a glittering diamond bracelet. He says, "The construction of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass".
And so if you were to see it from afar, it would just sparkle and shine as it turned around, and all of the hues of the glory of the city would be so overwhelming it would take your breath away. You'd have to wear sunglasses as you got close. Dr. Criswell who was one of my mentors had a very interesting statement about the pearl gates. Listen to what he said. He said, "There is a sermon in the fact that the gates are pearl, because heaven is entered through suffering and travail, through redemption and blood and through the agony of the cross. A pearl is a jewel made by a little animal that is wounded. Without the wound, the pearl is never formed".
And he said that's the way it is for us when we get to heaven. We'll walk through the gates of pearl and, as we do, we'll be reminded that the only reason we're there is because of the suffering and the pain of the Lord Jesus who paid the wound for us, that we might be redeemed. So it's a holy city with pearly gates, and then, next, the Bible tells us that the foundations of the city are of precious stones, Revelation 21:19-20: "And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper and sapphire and chalcedony and emerald and sardonyx and sardius and chrysolyte and beryl and topaz and chrysoprasus and jacinth and amethyst".
And all of those are just Greek terms that have been translated into the English language, describing all of the colors and all of the hue of the rainbow that we know today. And the Bible says that this great city which is foursquare, that descends out of heaven, will be built upon. And you will see it, a 12-layer foundation, each of the layers a different beautiful stone, emerald and diamond and all of the beautiful stones that are found throughout all of the universe. Each of the foundations will be a different one. And so when you see the foundation of the city, you'll be overwhelmed with the beauty of all of the gemstone foundations underneath this gigantic city of God.
Can you imagine? The building's greatest strength is its foundation and the New Jerusalem is not one foundation but 12. Rather than being 12 individual foundations separated from each other, they are packed upon each other and you see them all together in little ripples of gold and precious stones. And then, the Bible says it's not only a holy city with pearly gates and foundation of precious stones, but it's a place where there are streets of gold. I know that some of you think that's a folklore too. You hear all about the streets of gold in heaven. We're gonna walk on streets of gold. It's in all of the old negro spirituals, it's in all of the old gospel songs, the streets of gold.
Are there really streets of gold in heaven? Well, I'm just gonna tell you what the Word of God says. Look down at verse 18, then again in verse 21 of chapter 21: "And the construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass". And notice verse 21: "The 12 gates were 12 pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass". Now if you've ever looked at pure gold, you know that pure gold is not transparent, it's opaque. You can't see through pure gold. But John describes heaven's city as transparent glass. The gold of heaven is so pure that men seem to look into it and through its clear depths as they walk upon it. It is finely polished as a mirror and therefore it is not so much transparent but it's translucent.
And as you think about this and you wonder how that could be that a city could have streets of gold that are pure gold but that you can see through, don't forget also that in the glorified bodies that you will have then, your perceptions will be different and something might appear to you then as being both solid and transparent. If we have glorified bodies, surely our eyesight will be different and completely enhanced and we'll be able to see things as we've never seen them before. Streets of gold that you can literally see through the gold like you would look through a window pane. And that's the best I can do to describe what John tells us. And then we have the Lamb that is the light.
In Revelation 21, verse 11 and 23: "Having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. And the city had no need of the sun, nor of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God illuminated it, and the Lamb is its light". In the New Jerusalem there will be no lightposts. There will be no lanterns. There will be no lamps. There will be the presence of light throughout the city that emanates from the throne of God where sits the Lamb who is the Lord Jesus. The Bible says that in that city he will be the light. And there will be no need for any other light because the brilliance of the light of the Lord Jesus in his glorification will fill the city with brilliance.
I can't imagine it. Once again, can you imagine seeing the city as you approach it? Seeing the city from afar? The gold on the outside, the precious stones on the foundations, and this beautiful sense of light that emanates from out of the city from the throne of God. This is the New Jerusalem described in the Scripture. It is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, in chapter 60 and verse 19: "The sun shall no longer be your light by day; nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, and your God will be your glory".
When the Bible says that this city reflects light, it is not from any material combustion. It is not from any consumption of fuel. It is from the Lamb himself who is the light of the world and, in that moment, he will be the light of the city. No wonder Paul described our future like this: in 1 Corinthians 2:9 he said, "It is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of men, the things which God has prepared for those that love him".
Now, we talk about heaven sometimes flippantly. We have a lot of jokes about heaven. As you know, I refrain from giving you all the epitaphs that I've gotten this week in the mail about heaven. But I wanna tell you something, friends, in all of the fun we have with it, don't lose this truth. Heaven is a magnificent place, created by the greatest Creator, the Creator of all Creation. The Creator of Creativity has saved his best work until the last. And he is creating for us a place that is so phenomenal that I'm just so overwhelmed we don't talk about it more.
Yes, I know people say, "Well, you'll get so heavenly-minded, you're no earthly good". I don't find that to be true. I find that people who really have an understanding of where they're headed and how wonderful it is, have a greater sense of purpose while they're on this earth, that we come together as God's people with the realization that God has given us the privilege of being his real estate agents, going out into the hinterland and inviting people to come and participate in his crown production, the heavenly Jerusalem, by putting their trust and their faith in Jesus Christ.
So here again, we come face to face with this question. What will heaven be like? Well, it's a holy city with pearly gates and foundations of precious stones and streets of gold, and the Lamb who is the light. And then notice, there is a tree of life in the city. Verse 2: "And in the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore 12 fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month: the leaves of the tree were for the healing of all the nations".
Let me just touch on that quickly. The Bible says that in the city of Jerusalem there is a river, and we're going to see this in a moment, that flows down from the throne where the Lamb sits. And on each side of this river are planted not just the tree but the trees of life. The tree there is a word which is used for the plurality of the trees and you'll see there are 12 trees. And these trees bear different kinds of fruit each month throughout the year. So every month there's a whole new crop of different kinds of fruit that grow on these trees.
And someone has pointed out that you and I in eternity are gonna be able to eat from the very same tree that was planted in the Garden of Eden, only this time without prohibition and we won't get everybody in trouble. Oh, what a delight it is to just picture in your mind that beautiful city with the water coming down from the throne of God and the trees of life planted on each side, which brings us back to this whole deal. Do we get to eat in heaven? And I wanna remind you again of this wonderful truth: yes, we get to eat. We can eat all we want, we'll never gain any weight. There are no calories in heaven's food. We will never have any diets. We will eat for enjoyment and for the pleasure of it without bearing any of the human penalties that we now bear. But I wanna remind you that program doesn't start 'til you get to heaven, so I want you to understand that, right.
Notice in your Bible it says that the leaves are for healing of the nations. The word "healing" in the Greek language is the word "therapeuo". It's the word from which we get "therapeutic". It says that you'll be able to eat the leaves of the tree and that the leaves will give you a greater sense of your life and your presence there. It will not enhance your holiness because you will be perfectly holy, but will give you a greater sense of enjoyment. "It is therapeutic," it says in the Scripture. Are you getting a picture of this place? Is this phenomenal or what?
And finally, the last thing is the river of life in verses 1 and 2: "And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And in the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore 12 fruits, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations". You will have to do in this great city is follow the water that is flowing and it will take you right back to the throne of God. Do you remember Psalm 46:4: "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God"?
This is the river that is spoken about in the book of Revelation. Now, I feel like I have given you 3 months of study of heaven in just about 20 minutes. But I wanna just review for a moment. Heaven is a city foursquare, 1500 miles wide, 1500 miles long, and 1500 miles high. It will have the potential to house all of the people who have ever trusted in Christ from the very beginning of time including all of those who have died before the age of accountability, all of the children who have died without having an opportunity to receive Christ, all of those who were not mentally capable of understanding the gospel. This city will be large enough to house everyone.
Don't ever let anyone say to you again, "Well, you know, I don't believe in heaven. It couldn't possibly be big enough for everyone". It is big enough for everyone who will be there. And it will be not crowded by any means, take my word for it. And not only that, but it will be a magnificently beautiful city, like nothing you have ever seen. It will sparkle in the atmosphere. It will glow, it will have a sense of drawing you into itself. I wish I had a vocabulary greater than the one that I have to help you understand.
Donna and I took a little break, as you know. We saw Istanbul and then we spent a day at the ruins in Ephesus and we saw the Acropolis in Athens. But my favorite place on the whole journey was a place called Santorini. Some of you have been there. It's built up on a cliff, literally, it's built on the top of a volcanic ruin. And there is nothing on the side of the cliff from way up to the top of it all the way to the ground. But on the top, on the top of this ruin, is a city, and all of the houses are white. And it is the most gorgeous place you've ever seen in your life.
It's all of the quaintness of Europe and all of the beauty that you've imagined it could be, all the little winding streets and shops until you cannot imagine, so many shops. But the thing that is so glorious about it is the approach to it. Coming on a sail ship toward Santorini and all of a sudden, looking up and there, elevated way above the sea, is this white city, almost as if it is suspended in space. And all week long, I'm thinking about the holy city in God's heaven and I'm thinking, "Wow, what a beautiful place". And it doesn't even hold a candle to what God has envisioned for those of us who put our trust in him. Santorini is child's play compared to the holy city.
And one day, we're going to walk into that city and our mouths are gonna drop open and we're gonna understand how God loves us and how he's cared for us, that he would prepare for us such a place. And it's not even the whole of heaven. It's just the capital city of heaven. And the Bible says the gates are never closed and we'll go in and out and we'll find pleasure in that city with God and his people. And I hate to end on a negative note but I need to end on a warning note. I've talked to you about the dimensions of the city and the description of the city. But I wanna just remind you about the denial to the city. Not everyone gets in to the heavenly city.
Notice verse 8 of chapter 21: "But the cowardly and the unbelieving and the abominable and the murderers and the sexually immoral and the sorcerers and the idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death". Verse 27: "But there shall by no means enter into this city anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life". The Bible doesn't say that you cannot have committed any of these sins and then not go to heaven. It doesn't say that you can't be, have been sexually immoral or that you can't have lied. Doesn't say that. It says if that is your lifestyle and you've never repented of it and you continue to live that way, avoiding the opportunity that God has given you to be forgiven of that sin and to turn from it toward holiness, if you continue to live in that lifestyle without any regard to the forgiveness of God, you will never go to the holy city because you will not have repented and you won't be saved.
And the Bible says that the only people that get in the city are people whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. And there are no exceptions. No one will be able to argue their way into that city when the time comes. If you have not accepted God's plan for your life and received his forgiveness for your sin, when the moment comes you will be denied entrance into heaven and into the city we have described. And oh, how I don't want that to happen to you. I believe that the reason God gives us health and life and energy as his people is so that we can be his divine ambassadors, going all over the world, in and out of cities and on the radio and on television and through writing, telling everyone we can find, "There's a place God's prepared for you and he wants you to come there. He loves you and he wants to bring you to himself. But he will not bring into that city those who refuse to acknowledge their own sin and accept the penalty that Jesus paid for on the cross and be forgiven".
So in all of these messages on heaven, there is this wonderful hope and good news, but there's always in every passage this little subtle reminder: "Don't take for granted you're going there if you haven't repented of your sin and accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior". But after the warning is the invitation. The Bible tells us that he knocks at the door of our heart, waiting for us to open the door. But he will not come in without your invitation. That's the whole deal. So I wanna ask you today as we close this service and this time of teaching, have you received Christ into your life? Have you made your reservation for the heavenly city? This is the time you must do it. There's no chance after death. There's no second chance. This is it. This is the time. The time for reservation's open right now. This is the open reservation season. And God is asking you in your heart, "Have you made that decision"? And if you haven't, will you do it today?