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The Doctrine of the Millennium — Part IV: The Heavenly Jerusalem

Article contributed by www.walvoord.com

The Heavenly Jerusalem

One of the theological problems in relation to the doctrine of the millennium is the Scriptural teaching concerning the heavenly Jerusalem. This has not only confused opponents of premillennialism, but often has not been understood by those who hold to a millennial reign of Christ. Bound up in the problem also is the question of the relation of resurrected saints to the inhabitants of the millennial kingdom who are still in their natural bodies. Opponents of premillennialism have frequently heaped ridicule upon the teaching on the ground that it is impossible for resurrected beings and nonresurrected beings to mingle freely in the millennial scene. George L. Murray, for instance, refers to this when he states “…premillennialism makes no provision for the reconciliation of such irreconcilables as resurrected saints and mortal sinners in the same society” (Millennial Studies, p. 91). Solution to this entire problem, however, is afforded by a proper understanding of the Scriptural doctrine of the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 563-83). It may be demonstrated from Scripture that (1) the heavenly Jerusalem is the eternal habitation of all resurrected and translated saints; (2) the heavenly Jerusalem is in existence in the millennium; (3) the Scriptures teach that there is some participation of these resurrected saints in the government of the millennium; (4) objections to comingling or resurrected with nonresurrected beings is unjustified.

The eternal home of all the saints. Much of the confusion that exists in regard to the millennium and the eternal state stems from a failure to distinguish between the promises that are given to the last generation of saints who are on the earth at the time of the second advent and the promises that are given resurrected or translated saints in both the Old and New Testaments. The prophecies of the Old Testament give adequate basis for the doctrine that Israel has an earthly hope. The prophets in Israel’s darkest hours painted the most glowing picture of the coming earthly kingdom in which Israel would participate as a favored nation and possess their Promised Land under the reign of the Son of David. The promises as given, however, clearly refer to those who were not resurrected and were directed to the nation of Israel as it is to be constituted at the time of the second advent, that is, the Israelites who will survive the great tribulation. They and their seed will inherit the Promised Land and fulfill the hundreds of prophecies that have to do with Israel’s hope in the millennial kingdom. These promises are delineated in the Abrahamic, Davidic, Palestinian, and new covenants.

The Old Testament, however, also records promises to saints which are individual in their character. They for instance, are promised resurrection (Job 19:25-27; Isa 26:19-20; Dan 12:2-3). Along with the promise of their resurrection is the promise of reward such as characterizes God’s dealings with the saints in eternity (Dan 12:3; Mal 3:16-17). In a few instances these promises specifically are related to the new heaven and the new earth and constitute a description of the eternal state which follows the millennium (Isa 65:17-18; 66:22 ). From these passages it is evident that the millennial reign of Christ on earth as such is not the ultimate hope of the resurrected saints, but rather of the saints who enter the millennium in their natural bodies and who are fitted for the earthly scene.

This conclusion seems to be confirmed by the New Testament revelation concerning the heavenly city. In stating the faith of Abraham in Hebrews 11 it is stated: “For he looked for the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:10). It is further stated of Abraham and his descendants who died in the Old Testament that they did not receive the promises, and in fact were seeking a heavenly city: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own. And if indeed they had been mindful of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb 11:13-16). It is evident from these verses that the hope which was Abraham’s in resurrection had to do with a heavenly city rather than an earthly kingdom.

This is confirmed also by another passage in Hebrews 12:22-24 where Christians of the present age are related to the heavenly city: “But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable hosts of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel.” This important passage teaches that saints of all ages will be in the heavenly Jerusalem. The inhabitants of the heavenly city are itemized as an innumerable company of angels, the church, God, Jesus the Mediator, and the spirits of just men made perfect, the latter designation seemingly referring to all Old Testament saints. contemporary with the eternal state. According to this view, the city is proceeding from heaven to the earth as seen in Revelation 21:10 and is established with its foundations on the new earth. It is evident from any careful study of the millennial scene that the heavenly Jerusalem does not correspond to the earthly Jerusalem of the millennium.

It would be impossible for such a city in the size that is given, 1500 miles square, to be situated on the earth in the Holy Land. Adherents of both views therefore hold that if the heavenly Jerusalem is in existence during the millennium it is located above the earth and not on the earth. Exponents of this position point out that there is nothing incongruous with the racial background of the saints continuing in the eternal state. The word nations actually is the word Gentiles and is no more out of place than references to Israel or angels or the church as separate entities in the eternal scene. Further, the problem of the healing of the nations in Revelation 22:2 is dissolved when it is recalled that the tree of life originally existed in the Garden of Eden before sin came into being and therefore is a normal part of eternity as well. The word translated healing can just as well be translated health or benefit which would not necessarily mean more than that the leaves of the tree were beneficial in some way. Though scholars argue at length on both sides of this question, there does not seem to be any solid reason for denying the possibility that the New Jerusalem as pictured in Revelation 21:9ff is viewed from the standpoint of its descent to the earth at the beginning of the eternal state.

A third view, however, is sometimes offered which is a mediate view between the first two mentioned. This view contemplates the heavenly Jerusalem as in existence during the millennium over the earth as the habitation of the resurrected saints, and is in contrast to the city of Jerusalem located on the earth. The heavenly Jerusalem apparently is withdrawn at the time of the destruction of the present earth and heaven. Then as pictured in Revelation 21:2 it returns to the new heaven and the new earth when the scene is ready for its descent. This interpretation regards Revelation 21:9ff as the heavenly city in the eternal state though recognizing its existence in the millennium. This seems to solve most of the exegetical problems that are involved and, in fact, answers many objections to the premillennial interpretation of Scripture as a whole. It provides a clear distinction between resurrected saints who inhabit the New Jerusalem and the millennial saints on the earth who will inhabit the millennial earth. It is assumed, though the Scriptures do not state it, that the millennial saints at the end of the millennium will be translated prior to their entrance into the eternal state and thus will qualify for entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem.

Relation of resurrected saints to the millennial earth. Though the major difficulty of the relationship of resurrected saints to those who are still in their natural bodies in the millennium is explained by the residence of the resurrected saints in the heavenly Jerusalem, Scriptures afford several instances in which there will be some relation of resurrected saints to those in the millennial earth. Christ promised His followers that they would participate with Him in His judgment upon the twelve tribes of Israel in His kingdom. Christ declared: “Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28). A larger promise is given by reminder to the Corinthians when Paul wrote them: “Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world is judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (1 Cor 6:2). It is further promised believers who participate in the first resurrection that they “shall reign with him a thousand years” (Rev 20:6). Further reference to reigning on the earth is found in Revelation 5:10 and 2 Timothy 2:12. It may be observed, however, that all of these references are not necessarily references to the millennial scene though some of them obviously are (Rev 5:10; 20:4, 6 ). If resurrected saints are to reign with Christ over the millennial earth, it would seem evident that there must be at least a limited amount of communication and association between resurrected saints and those in their natural bodies. If the reference in Ezekiel 37:24 to David as king over Israel is a reference to resurrected David as ruler over the Promised Land in the role of a subruler of Christ, then further evidence is given for this comingling. As far as Scripture revelation is concerned, however, it seems to be limited to a few specific functions, and the primary activity of the resurrected saints will be in the new and heavenly city.

Scriptural ground for comingling of resurrected and nonresurrected saints. The objection frequently raised that any comingling of resurrected with nonresurrected beings is impossible is of course denied by the simple fact that our Lord in His resurrection body was able to mingle freely with His disciples. Though there evidently was some change in their relationship, he could still talk with them, eat with them, and be subject to physical contact with them. Further, it is clear that even at the present time there is a ministry of angels to human beings even though angels are of an entirely different order of beings than men and are invisible in their earthly activities under ordinary circumstances. Though the free mingling of resurrected and nonresurrected beings is contrary to our present experience, there is no valid reason why there should not be a limited amount of such association in the millennial earth.

Undoubtedly the millennial kingdom will be a dispensation graphically different from any previous one and involving many unique features which can only partially be understood now from the Scriptures. As a dispensation it is fitted to be climactic in its character and a divine preparation for the eternal state which will follow. The prospect for such a kingdom, however, is the answer to the world’s longing for peace, righteousness, and equity which will never be achieved until Christ Himself returns to reign.

The Close of the Millennium and the Eternal State

The final revolt. According to Revelation 20:7-9, at the conclusion of the thousand-year reign of Christ, Satan, who has been bound, will be loosed again and be permitted to deceive the nations as he has done through the ages (cf. ibid, V, 360-1). Those who will be deceived evidently are those who will be born in the millennial kingdom whose parents previously entered the millennium in their natural bodies. Some of the children born no doubt will become true children of God, whereas others will merely profess to follow Christ under the compulsion of the absolute reign of the Lord. With the renewed activity of Satan these will be encouraged to rebel against God and according to Revelation 20:8 will gather themselves to battle against the Lord and surround the earthly city of Jerusalem. In this connection it is stated that Satan will go out “to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog….” This should not be confused with a similar reference to Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38:2 which is an event referring to a battle which probably precedes the millennium. The similarity of terms is best explained by defining Gog as the prince and Magog as the people of the prince, or the land over which he rules. So interpreted, the passage states that Satan will deceive the nations which are in all parts of the earth, both prince and people, that is, both rulers and those under them. Apparently the defection against Christ will extend even to some of the subrulers involved in the political government of the world at the close of the millennium.

The revolt will be summarily judged and the Scriptures record that “fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them” (Rev 20:9). Further, it is declared that the devil will be cast into the lake of fire, the final destiny of all unsaved. Into this place of punishment the beast and the false prophet—the political and religious rulers of the world during the great tribulation preceding the niillennium—will be cast to begin their endless torment (Rev 20:10).

The_judgment of the great white throne. It is recorded that subsequent to the conclusion of the millennium a great white throne is established, apparently in space, as both earth and the starry heavens flee away from it in the destruction of the present earth and heaven. Before this throne are assembled the dead, small and great. Though the Scriptures do not state so directly, it is implied that this is a judgment of the wicked dead who have not previously been raised from the grave. They are judged according to their works as written in “the books” which are the divine record of human activity. It is stated that the dead are brought back to this judgment, their bodies delivered from the grave, whether in the sea or on the land, and their soul and spirit are brought up from hades. The summary judgment is given: “If any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). This is defined as “the second death” (Rev 20:14). Just as physical death is separation of the immaterial part of man from his physical body, so the second death is eternal separation of the wicked from God. There has been some debate as to the exact character of the book of life, but whatever construction is placed upon this expression as is found in Scripture the conclusion is evident that it records at this time the names of those who are saved. Though the wicked will be judged according to their works as to degree of punishment, the fact that their names are not in the book of life is the ground for their judgment.

The new heaven and the new earth. According to Revelation 21:10, following the judgement of the great white throne a new heaven and a new earth is revealed to John apparently created to replace the present earth and heaven. Very little description is given of this in Scripture though it is mentioned in Isaiah 65:17 where it is stated that when the new heavens and the new earth are created the former would not be remembered. The new heaven and the new earth differ greatly from the present situation. It is declared that there is no more sea (Rev 21:1). The physical characteristics of it differ widely from the present earth as well. It may be gathered from the fact that the New Jerusalem does not need sun or moon, that the glory of the Lord will be the light of the new creation and that there will be no night. It is a scene of release from earth’s sorrows. God “shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away” (Rev 21:4). Excluded from the new earth are all the unsaved described in Revelation 21:8.

A principal feature of the new earth will be the New Jerusalem pictured as a bride adorned for her husband and a city which comes down from God out of heaven to the new earth (Rev 21:2, 9-10). The city is described as having twelve foundations on which are the names of the twelve apostles. It is square in shape and has three gates on each of the four sides bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Scriptures give a graphic description of its beauty in which pure gold, which is compared to clear glass, is a principal ingredient. The walls and the foundations are garnished with precious stones, twelve of which are mentioned, apparently representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Each of the gates is a large pearl. The streets of the city are paved with pure gold transparent like glass. Other features of the city include the fact that there is no temple in it for the Lord Himself dwells in the city. Access to the city will be given to the saved, both Jew and Gentile. The gates shall not be shut, but no one will be permitted to enter who would in any way defile the city, entrance being reserved to those “that are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21:27). A major feature of the city is a pure river which proceeds from the throne of God and winds its way through the city. The tree of life originally mentioned as being in the Garden of Eden is here seen again bearing fruits each month. It is stated that in this new earth there will be no more curse, but instead abundant blessing from God.

A most astounding feature is the dimension of the city which is given as 1500 miles square and also 1500 high. Such a dimension quite unfamiliar even to a modern world with its high buildings would provide a city of impressive and spacious dimensions as the seat of God’s eternal government and dwelling place for the saints. Expositors differ as to whether the city is in the form of a cube or a pyramid though the latter seems more likely. If in the form of a pyramid, it is possible that the throne of God will be at the top and the river of life will wend its way from the throne down the various levels of the city. In these brief terms is given a description of the ultimate resting place of the saints beyond which Scripture revelation does not go in its unfolding of the endless ages of eternity. How pale in comparison are the monuments of men! How satisfying is the revelation of the divine purpose of the grace of God in bestowing these benefits on those who have put their trust in His blessed Son! How blessed is the hope of the imminent coming of Christ which will begin that grand sequence of future events which have their goal in eternity in the glorious presence of the Triune God!

The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for,
The fair, sweet morn awakes.
Dark, dark hath been the midnight,
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.

Dallas, Texas


This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library CD and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.