Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 5 – The Kingdom of Christ
by Gerald R. Thompson
Rev. 21:1-27 (summary) -
vv. 1-5: The present heaven and earth pass away, and a new heaven and earth replace them. There are no more seas. The new Jerusalem comes from heaven to earth as the place where God will dwell with man: He will be their God, and they will be His people. Death, pain and crying are no more; the former things have passed away.
vv. 6-8: All things are made new. God on the throne declares He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. The spring of the water of life will be given as a heritage to the thirsty, those who conquer, the sons of God. But the lake of fire and sulphur, the second death, is reserved for “the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars.”
vv. 9-21: The New Jerusalem is described as the Bride of the Lamb. It is a city, clear as crystal, with a high wall, and a square base. Its length, width and height are equal: 12,000 stadia. It has 12 gates, each made of a single pearl, three gates facing each direction (N, S, E, W). An angel is stationed at each gate, and the gates are named after the tribes of Israel. The city has twelve foundations, each named after one of the apostles of the Lamb, and each made of a precious stone (which are specified). The city and its street are pure gold, clear as glass.
vv. 22-27: There is no temple in the city, for its temple is God the Almighty and the Lamb. There is no sun or moon to give light, for God and the Lamb are its light, and there will be no night. The gates will never be shut, and the kings and nations will enter the city. But nothing unclean or false can enter in – only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Rev. 22:1-5 (summary) – The river of the water of life flows from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side is the tree of life, with twelve kinds of fruit, yielding fruit each month. The tree’s leaves are for the healing of the nations. The servants of God will worship Him, and see His face. His name will be on their foreheads, and they will reign forever.
After the battle between good and evil has been fought and permanently won, after God has accomplished everything He has wanted to do on the earth and with humanity, and after history has run its full course, all that exists now or will ever exist in the present universe will come to an end. Time will be no more, and eternity will start. All things physical will pass away, or at least be changed beyond recognition into something new.
Which is not to say that everything in the new creation will be metaphysical (or spiritual only), but rather it will be incorruptible. In scientific terms, the law of entropy will no longer apply (energy will not always tend towards a less ordered state). Tangible things will exist, but they will not decay, fall apart or wear out. As Paul stated, “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality,” in other words, an immortal body. 1Co. 15:53-54.
Since we will have new immortal bodies and not merely have our spirits float about the universe incorporeal (without a body), there must of necessity be things of substance – for lack of a better term, made of matter – and the new earth and the new Jerusalem (like our bodies) will be tangible things. But the curse of the ground will be gone – there will be no death, no pain or suffering, and no diseases or defects. Men will no longer toil, and women will no longer give birth. No one in heaven will be separated from God or have a sin nature. In fact, sin itself will be gone forever.
As to why God will create a new earth, it is because that’s where His people will live. We are not going to live either in outer space (second heaven) or the third heaven (a purely spiritual realm). The eternal “heaven” for which God’s people are destined is none of these. No, the people of God will be firmly tethered to a new earth, undoubtedly a planet like the present earth, but without any oceans, which I take to mean it will be 100% habitable (unlike the present earth). In fact, what people commonly refer to as heaven is really the New Jerusalem, because that’s where the pearly gates will be.
The scripture indicates that Christians are in a sense strangers and aliens (or exiles) on the earth (Heb. 11:13), but I confess I have a pet peeve when this is commonly characterized as “the earth is not our home,” or “our home is not this world.” The reality is that man was created to live on the earth, and only the earth.
And when I say we will be tethered to the new earth, I mean that we will never leave it. In a spiritual sense, we are not of the current world spiritual system, but in a physical sense, we always have been, and always will be forever the people of the earth. The earth is the only home we will ever have and we’d better get used to it.
It is possible the new earth will not have a solar system. We know that the New Jerusalem will have no need of the sun or the moon, which may mean they won’t exist, because there will be no night. However, the scripture never plainly says the new earth will have no need for the sun or moon – only that the holy city will have no need of them.
And then there is the curious reference to the tree of life in Rev. 22:2 to the effect that it will yield its fruit each month. Most commentators focus on why, if at all, anyone will need to eat such fruit, but my concern is the fact that it will yield fruit each month. You can’t have a month without a moon. A month is a lunar cycle – at least, for now. But for reasons described next, that analysis may not apply in eternity.
Though it is hard for us to conceive of it, time will cease. People will still move about and do things – there will be motion in eternity – but time will not be relevant. Since in our physical world time equals change (motion), I take this to mean two things: 1) nothing in the new creation will age; and 2) all of the things by which we measure time will likely be gone – the day, the week, the month, and the year.
All of these time measurements depend on the movement of astronomical bodies (sun, moon and earth), and it is likely that even though the new earth will still be a planet, all of the references by which days, months and years are observed will be gone. Thus, on balance, I conclude there will be no sun or moon, and possibly no rotation of the new earth.
If you ask me whether people will make appointments in heaven and be able to keep meetings, I suspect the answer is yes, but perhaps people will intuitively know when to coordinate with each other. Or maybe they won’t care when anyone arrives, because it’s not like there will be any emergencies or time pressures in eternity. Obviously, I don’t know the answer to the question and God isn’t going to tell us before we get there, most likely. But time, as we now know it, will no longer apply.
Further, I doubt anyone in the new creation will remember anything of our lives on earth, nor ask about it. We will not be sitting around watching reruns of history for our amusement or edification. All those things would do is remind us of sin and sorrow. Isa. 65:17 suggests we will have no memory of what came before. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”
In keeping with that, Jesus indicated there will be no marriage or family relationships in heaven, because those only applied to carrying out the Dominion Mandate of Gen. 1:28, which I assume will no longer apply. See Mat. 22:30. There will certainly be no need for procreation – once eternity sets in, whoever has been born up to that point is all the people there will ever be, forever.
The number of heavenly occupants will remain constant. Which means no one will leave, either. No one will be traveling to other stars or planets. If you’re waiting for space aliens to show everyone that we are not alone in the universe, wake up! We are not alone already – God is, and will be, with us forever.
Rev. 2:17; 3:12; and 22:4 all indicate that in heaven everyone will be given a new and unique name from God that no one else has. This tells me that God is going so far in making a new creation that we will all have completely new self-identities – another confirmation that all past memories will be wiped away. We might – no one can say for sure – retain our memories (even as translated saints) up until the Great White Throne. But after that, memories of our first creation would be totally inconsistent with being a new creation. I suspect God will give everyone in heaven a mind wipe.
The fact that the New Jerusalem will have twelve gates named after the tribes of Israel and twelve foundations named after the apostles is interesting, but I wonder if we will know the significance of it then. If everyone in eternity gets a new and unique name from God (as well as a mind wipe), how would we associate anyone in heaven with the names on its gates or foundations?
It is therefore no mere coincidence that Revelation 21-22 tells us the New Jerusalem will have twelve gates named after the tribes of Israel, but nowhere mentions the names of the tribes themselves. This in sharp contrast to Rev. 7, in discussing the 144,000 of Israel during the Tribulation, which names each of the tribes.
Similarly Ezek. 48, in describing the apportionment of the land of Israel and the gates of Jerusalem during the Millennium, names each of the tribes. Yet, when we are told the gates of New Jerusalem will be named after the tribes of Israel in eternity, the names of the tribes are not given. I suggest the reason for this is simple: when eternity arrives, those names will no longer mean anything to us.
If they were to mean anything to us, that is, if we were to remember who the tribes of Israel were and what they did or why they were important, we would necessarily remember their trials, sins, failures, and times of judgment. But we will not remember those things. “The former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” Thus, it should be no surprise that when we are told the foundation layers of the New Jerusalem will be named after the apostles, they are not named either. We will not remember who they were.
As to what people will do in heaven once they get there, the Bible doesn’t say. Other than worshiping God and going in and out of the city, we will just have to wait and find out. Sadly, there is no reasonable expectation that anyone will be able to have sex with 70 virgins in heaven. And I was so looking forward to that. But on a planet as large as the new earth without any seas, I’m betting we’ll have plenty of things to do, places to go, and people to see.
We are told that the New Jerusalem will come from heaven to the new earth adorned as a bride. It will be like a jewel, clear as crystal. The entire city will be made of precious metals and precious stones. It will have twelve pearly gates named after the tribes of Israel, and twelve jeweled foundations named after the Lamb’s apostles. It will be square, either 1,400 or 1,500 miles on each side, depending on your Bible translation (12,000 stadia vs. 12,000 furlongs). It is also the same height.
When it is said that the New Jerusalem comes out of heaven from God, the primary significance is that the city is entirely made by God without any human input or contribution. The New Jerusalem will not be under construction, and no man will build it. God will be able to say to His people, on behalf of Himself and His government, “You didn’t build that.” Which statement will actually be true for the first time ever.
I would do a disservice if I gave the impression that the New Jerusalem was something mentioned in the Bible only at the very end of Revelation. It is of course mentioned in Rev. 3:12, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”
But the New Jerusalem is also mentioned four times in Hebrews. “For [Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Heb. 11:10. “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Heb. 11:16. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” Heb. 12:22. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Heb. 13:14.
The holy city of God, founded by Him and wherein He dwells, as well as His holy mountain, are also prefigured many times in the Psalms. See, for example, Ps. 46:4; 48:1, 87:1. The New Jerusalem is also prefigured in the many scriptures referring to God dwelling with His people, or in Jerusalem, forever. So the New Jerusalem is in fact a theme throughout the Bible.
It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of the New Jerusalem, not just with respect to prophecy, but to all of life. It is in a very real sense the culmination of everything – the ultimate reason for mankind, the creation, all of history, and existence itself.
Consider this: When God created the world, He made it a home for humanity and the theater in which history would be played out. God created man for fellowship, but because of the Fall man was flawed and incapable of engaging in fellowship with any degree of purity. So God laid out a plan of salvation which unfolded throughout history and which, at the macro level had one objective, namely, to separate mankind into two groups: those who truly wanted fellowship with God and those who didn’t.
The New Jerusalem is the culmination of the process of culling/calling the true believers from the rest of humanity and putting them in the position where they can have eternal, undefiled, intimate and pure fellowship with God. Literally everything that has come before is a prelude to this: that God and His people will dwell together in holiness forever.
Accordingly, the New Jerusalem is no side show. It is God’s ultimate goal for human existence. So when the scripture says Abraham looked forward to the city “whose designer and builder is God,” he once again serves as a model for the rest of us. God’s ultimate goal should be our ultimate goal. When the end times come, don’t you want to be regarded as someone who looked forward to the city of God?
As for the size and shape of the New Jerusalem, when you consider a city 1,400 or 1,500 miles square, that’s larger than the size of India (2,000,000+ sq. miles) – all for one city. Since the city is to be the same height, it poses some significant difficulties for a new earth the same size as the current one (7,926 miles in diameter). That’s a city sticking 17%-19% the diameter of the planet off the surface – a freakish impossibility. Yet, the measurements of the New Jerusalem are said to be “by human measurement,” which indicates they are to be taken literally.
The conclusion I come to is that the new earth will be significantly larger than the present earth. When you consider that the highest peak on earth today is Mt. Everest, it is only 5½ miles high, or .07% of the earth’s diameter. If that same ratio were to hold true for the New Jerusalem, the new earth would have to be over 2,000,000 miles in diameter. Obviously the Bible doesn’t actually say this, so it only seems reasonable that the new earth may be significantly larger than the present earth, but no one can say by how much.
Some people have concluded the New Jerusalem will be a cube because it is as high as it is wide, but the Bible doesn’t say that either. It just says the city will have a high wall all around. I have concluded there is only one possible shape for the city – one that is both appropriate for a surface feature of a planet, and which is also the singular symbolic description of the kingdom of God throughout the Bible – a mountain. A mountain with a square base. Not a pyramid – when has God ever described His kingdom as a pyramid? Rather, a majestic and beautiful crystalline mountain.
I will not here elaborate on all of the details of the construction and appearance of the New Jerusalem. Everything it is made of is precious, pure, and apparently transparent. In this world even pure gold is not transparent, yet it will be “clear as glass” in eternity. One more indication that matter will still exist in eternity, but it will be different somehow. Likewise for the pearly gates – each made of a single pearl, yet large enough for people to pass through it. I’d hate to meet the oyster they will come from …
The main thing about the gates is that they will never be closed, and they are obviously designed for people to go in and out through them. Thus, the New Jerusalem will not be a place where anyone is confined. The nations will be going in and out of the city. If the new earth will be as large as I suspect, and there will be no seas, then it will be quite open, airy, well lit, roomy, and spacious – not just the city, but the entire globe. The exact opposite of hell.
And so here we come, at last, to the end of the story of the end times. We started this entire discussion by noting that the overall purpose of end times prophecy is stated in Dan. 9:24: “to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place.” Let’s now look at each of these in turn.
1) To finish the transgression. Note that the scripture says, the transgression, not transgressions in general or all transgression. So it is probably a reference to a particular transgression. Which one? There are three likely candidates.
First, the Abomination of Desolation, referred to as the transgression that makes desolate in Dan. 8:13. It’s true, that event is a significant one, spoken of in prophecy, which Jesus will personally end with His Second Coming. But compared to all the other purposes listed in Dan. 9:24, the Abomination of Desolation is just one event, not a continuing theme like the others. Plus, if that is here referred to, how is it different from purpose #6 (anointing the most holy place)?
Second, the transgression of Adam. Rom. 5:14. In other words, original sin, or the Fall of mankind. Perhaps, but if that be the one referred to, it is utterly redundant with purpose #2 (to make an end of sin). The transgression of Adam was the introduction of sin into the world. So they are the same.
Third, (my choice) is the transgression of Jacob and/or the transgression of Israel, which I take to be the same. Mic. 1:5, 13. This is a reference to the idolatry and unfaithfulness of Israel, i.e., the betrayal of God by His own chosen people. This transgression will be finished beginning when the 144,000 are sealed by God as the firstfruits of Israel, and fully finished when Jesus enters his Millennial kingdom and all Israel is saved. Rom. 11:26. Remember, Daniel’s vision is given to “your people and your holy city,” meaning the Jews and Jerusalem. Dan. 9 is not about the Church.
2) To make an end of sin. Rev. 20:14. Sin entered the world with the fall of mankind in Gen. 3:14-19. Rightly it is called the transgression of Adam, for when God pronounced judgment on the serpent, the woman, and the man, only in the judgment of Adam did God inaugurate the three things most germane to the history of the world thereafter: 1) the curse of the ground; 2) the sin nature (“original sin”); and 3) death. By the end of the end times, each of these will have been ended.
Mankind’s sin nature will finally be eradicated at the time of the second resurrection, when all people will receive their immortal bodies. The fleshly bodies we have now, so inextricably linked with sin and death, will finally be gone forever. Those in Christ will receive their eternal and incorruptible bodies, but even those not in Christ will shed the mortal coil. It is not as though people in hell will have an expiration date – they will be there forever, and they will need an imperishable body for the duration.
As per Rev. 20:14, death and Hades will then be thrown into the lake of fire a/k/a hell, which is to say, death will be no more. This necessitates that sin will be no more. For sin and death entered the world together, and they will leave it together as well. Scripture tells us the wages of sin is death. Rom. 6:23. That is, if sin exists, then death exists. Logically, if sin => death, then the contrapositive is also true, i.e., if no death => no sin. When death is abolished, sin will end.
Finally, the curse of the ground will be erased when the present earth is destroyed and the new creation – the new heaven and earth – replaces it. The new earth and its jewel the New Jerusalem will not be under any curse. People there will not know pain, subjection, toil or death. What a blessing that will be!
3) To make atonement for iniquity. Since Jesus made an atonement for sin during His First Advent, what does that have to do with the end times? Well, as long as we are in these bodies of flesh, we cannot escape the effects of sin. We receive spiritual redemption immediately at the point of salvation, but only the promise of the eventual redemption of our bodies, at either the first or second resurrection. Even the spiritually redeemed are not exempted from the effects of their own sin, the sinful actions of others, or the consequences of nature. Every day of our lives, we pay for somebody’s sins by way of the pain, death, trials and suffering we constantly endure. In this life we have the hope and promise of full atonement (payment for sin), but not the reality of it.
Only after the second resurrection will all iniquity be fully atoned for, redemption be finally completed, and the consequences and effects of sin be fully terminated. Only after the second resurrection will the blood of Jesus fully atone for all the iniquities of our physical existence, so that no further payment will ever be required of either Him or us. Thus, the first and second resurrections – both yet future – are as vital to our ultimate atonement as the First Advent.
4) To bring in everlasting righteousness. I suspect this goal is tied to establishing a kingdom of righteousness, as per Isa. 9:7, which has three parts: 1) the kingdom of Christ not of this world, i.e., the spiritual kingdom of righteousness inaugurated at the conclusion the First Advent; 2) the earthly kingdom of Christ, i.e., the physical and temporal kingdom during the Millennium; and 3) the eternal kingdom of Christ, being the one which will be perfect and will never end.
The spiritual kingdom Christ allows people to attain righteousness by having it attributed to them through Jesus, but they will not be able to conquer the spiritual kingdom of darkness in this world. The Millennial kingdom will have conquered the kingdom of Satan and greatly diminished (but not eliminated) sin, but it will be temporary in any event. Only the eternal kingdom of Christ will totally eliminate all unrighteousness and be permanent.
5) To seal up vision and prophecy. Once history ends, there will be no further need of prophecy or visions of the future. For one thing, there will be nothing left for God to accomplish on this earth – all His works and purposes will have been fully realized. All prophecies will have been fulfilled to the fullest extent, with nothing remaining undone. Thus, there will be nothing for God to give further advance notice of to His people.
Additionally, it will be meaningless to say anything like many days from now, in the time of the end, for such and such a period of time, etc. All prophecies relate to a future time, but time will not exist in eternity. There will be no markers by which anything God does can be measured. The concept of the future will be meaningless in eternity. There will be no past either. There will only be a never ending present reality. Prophecy and visions will be pointless.
6) To anoint the most holy place. In this life, the most holy place is wherever the presence of God is to be found, epitomized in both ancient Israel and the future Millennial kingdom as the holy of holies in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. And certainly, when the Millennium arrives, the temple will be rebuilt, Jesus will occupy it as God, and it will be consecrated or anointed as the most holy place on earth because it will be where God dwells.
But the same can be said for the New Jerusalem when it comes to the new earth, which is said to be the dwelling place of God. Rev. 21:3. “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Rev. 21:22-23.
So there you have it. When the new heaven and new earth arrive, history and His story will both be complete, and there will be nothing more to tell.
I know how all of this looks. Demon hordes roaming the earth to torture and kill people. The divine slaughter of billions of people (at least half the total world population) in only 3½ years. The oceans and rivers turned to blood. An earthquake that levels everything, both natural and man-made, on the whole earth. Prophets performing signs and wonders in full public view. And a battle – the biggest and baddest ever – between good and evil played out in real life.
But we’re just getting started. Jerusalem will be sacked – that’s to be expected. But it will lead to the building of a Third Temple. The Temple will first be desecrated and profaned, then made the capital of the world. The Jews will be regathered and restored in an unprecedented way. Peace will finally come to the Mideast. And the Jews en masse will eventually accept Jesus as their Messiah. But only when the evil pretender to the throne is locked away in a bottomless pit.
An unlikely world empire will arise again from the ash heap of history and surprise many. It will lead the way for the worldwide persecution of Jews and Christians. It will force allegiance on all people and behead those who refuse. But the evil empire will be divided and it will turn on itself in part, destroying its most sacred city. Its leaders will be from the pit of hell, yet no man can depose them. But all of this is a mere prelude to strangeness.
People will be resurrected from the dead in an instant. Jesus will return visibly to the earth and rule it for 1,000 years. There will be one worldwide religion (Christianity – who knew?), and one worldwide government – a total theocracy. For believers, a time of unparalleled peace and prosperity. For unbelievers, a time of unbelievable frustration. After a brief and final rebellion, an eternity of dwelling with God in His holy mountain of a city for believers, and an eternity of darkness and suffering on some distant otherworld for unbelievers.
It’s all a bit much, isn’t it? Who can comprehend such things? How can the unthinkable become reality? From where we sit right now, it all seems too fantastic to be even possible. It is the stuff of science fiction, not even remotely similar to all of human history so far.
Yet, I suggest, it is exactly where the words of the Bible take us, if taken literally where not clearly symbolic. Do you believe God will make good on His promise to give you eternal life? Well, then this is how He is going to do it. Not gradually, but suddenly.
I suppose that is why both post-millennialism and amillennialism have many strong adherents. Both of those schools of thought defer most of the end times events to the distant future. Amills deny any physical kingdom of Christ and think the Tribulation and Second Coming will end history, so in practical terms everything in history will continue indefinitely pretty much as it is now. What is normal now will be normal indefinitely. What’s to worry?
Post-mills first allocate many end times events to the past, and therefore they do not have to worry about them changing what the future will look like. To the extent things do change, it will be because people bring about the changes gradually as they yield more to Christ, so we will have plenty of time to adjust. Again, no sudden changes to worry about, and in the long run, those changes will be positive, not negative.
What I have suggested is much more jarring. People don’t like to be jarred. Maybe you don’t like to be jarred. But that isn’t the question. The question is, will God shake things up suddenly in order to bring them to a conclusion? Is God a go along, get along kind of guy, or is He a mover and a shaker? What does the scripture say?
“Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger.” Isa. 13:13.
“Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” Heb. 12:26-28. See also Hag. 2:6, 7, 21.
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Lk 21:25-26.
Yeah, you might want to forget that whole I can wait until later to be concerned about biblical prophecy thing. And since you’ve read this far, you might want to tell your friends …