Why It’s Called “Heaven”

Posted: May 15, 2011 in Revelation

<Revelation 21:9-27, “Why It’s Called ‘Heaven’”

Some people get excited when they look at blueprints & floor-plans – I’m not generally one of them.  Yet there are some floor-plans that are so incredible that they just inspire awe.  To walk around buildings like the Hermitage in St. Petersberg, Russia or grand cities like New York is an amazing experience.  Yet just think of what it will be like to see the city that Jesus has designed!

Normally, when we think of the Bible’s description of what we call “Heaven,” we’re typically thinking of the city New Jerusalem.  Heaven is that place of eternal bliss & wonder – and so aptly described in Rev 21:3-4…  Yet we need to remember that this isn’t the description of a state of mind or a symbolic other-worldly existence; what the Bible describes as the eternal New Jerusalem is a real, physical place in which the saints of God will physically dwell.

The early verses of Ch 21 introduce the city to us; the rest of the chapter goes on to describe it.  What we see is a city that is (1) absolutely amazing – beautiful in its design and built upon the promises & covenant of God.  And we see (2) a city that is utterly holy – set apart and perfect because it is to be indwelt by the very presence of the Most Holy God.  We tend to say Heaven will be wonderful – and it will be!  But why do we call it “Heaven”?  Because it’s where God’s promises are fulfilled & where God Himself will dwell.

Revelation 21:9–27 (NKJV)

9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”

  1. Interesting that although the angel is not named, the angel is still identified.  John recognized him as one of the angels that had been involved in pouring out the bowl judgments upon the earth (Rev 16).  These were the bowls full of the finality of the wrath of God, and signaled the fall of the harlot city of Babylon, just prior to the 2ndcoming of Christ.
    1. It’s appropriate to be reminded of Babylon because of the great contrast between the last days Babylon and the eternal New Jerusalem.

                                                                          i.      Both are cities – one ruled by Antichrist; one ruled by Jesus.

                                                                        ii.      Both are women – one is the harlot; one is the spotless bride.

                                                                      iii.      Both had authority – one was temporary; one is eternal.

                                                                      iv.      The very best that Satan can come up with will always be a cheap substitute of the things of God!

  1. There’s more given to the angel to do than to pour out the wrath of God.  His service did not end with the Tribulation – the angel continued to serve God into eternity.  This is important to remember for ourselves!  Sometimes we have a tendency of thinking of Heaven as an everlasting retirement program where we have a cloud, a harp, and that’s it.   Not true!  We will be serving our Lord & King in ways that we cannot yet imagine.  [Parable of the Talents – Mt 25]  The master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things…” (Mt 25:21)  After the judgment, there was more to do – God entrusted him with MORE responsibilities – so it will be with us.  The Bible tells us that we are joint-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17), and that we will rule and judge with Christ.  What this looks like in exact detail, we don’t know – but we can be assured that it will be wonderful!  In the service of God, work will not be laborious, it will be fulfilling – we’ll be doing the very things in eternity for which God had originally created us.
  2. The angel does not name the city here, but he does describe it: “the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”  People sometimes get confused here…is the New Jerusalem a symbolic description of a literal people (the Church) – or is it a literal description of a physical city?  Yes. J  It’s both…  Some scholars what to divorce these aspects from one another, but there’s no reason to do so when the text so plainly refers to both.  There’s little doubt here that a physical city is described: it’s measurable – it has foundations & pillars & gates & much more physical descriptions of it.  At the same time, the Lord Jesus does not marry an inanimate object like a metropolitan city; the city is plainly called “the Lamb’s wife.”  That’s an obvious reference to the people who will dwell there: us.
    1. Although it’s easy to get confused when considering the idea that we are the Bride of Christ (especially for men), it’s truly a wonderful illustration.  Put aside the notions of procreation & simply thing of the relational intimacy between husbands and wives in the best earthly marriages.  (Hopefully you can include your own in that – if not, please get help!)  In the best marriages, there is immense trust that exists – there’s the joy that husband and wife have for one another – the love a husband pours out on his wife and the respect the wife shows her husband…  People often get envious today when they see marriages that seem to be “perfect” (though we know that even the best marriages aren’t truly perfect).  But in eternity, WE will have the perfect marriage!  We’ll be married to the perfect Husband: the Lord Jesus Christ.


10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,

  1. in the Spirit”: Obviously John was having a series of visions, but that doesn’t make what he saw in the visions any less true.  The text is simply saying that he was transported somewhere, and this experience that he had was spiritual.
  2. Where was he taken?  “To a great and high mountain.”  The reason why will become obvious: the city is absolutely huge & John is going to need a good vantage point from which to take it all in.
  3. Finally, John sees the bride – shown to him as the glorious city of “the holy Jerusalem.”  This is the city that was promised to us by the Lord Jesus Himself. John 14:1–3 “(1) “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. (2) In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (3) 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.” []  Chew on this for a moment.  We know we want to be with Jesus (that’s obvious for any born-again Christian).  What’s so amazing is that Jesus wants to be with US!  He’s preparing a home for us for the specific reason that we will always be with Him.


11 having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.

  1. The city has “the glory of God.”  The beauty of the city will be described in the next few verses (and it’s incredible!) – but more than “beautiful,” the city is “glorious” in the truest sense of the word.  This city has been given the very glory of God.  “Glory” can typically refer to “light/brightness,” but in reference to God, it can mean so much more…it’s a reference to God’s honor, splendor, majesty, loftiness, etc.  Everything that describes the holy wonder of God is wrapped up in “glory.” THAT’s the glory that’s been given to the New Jerusalem!  It has been endued with the very glory of God.  THAT is the home in which we will dwell for all eternity.  THAT is the glory in which we will live as we worship our Lord & Savior.  It’s almost unimaginable that we have been graced to partake in such a thing!
  2. The glory here is the glory of God, but it’s still described as light.  The light here is pure & clean & precious – “like a jasper stone.”  What we refer to as “jasper” today is a mineral of various colors used for vases & other decorative purposes.  Here, “jasper” seems to refer to a gemstone of diamond-like quality – where it’s transparent & clear, like crystal.


12 Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: 13 three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.

  1. 12 gates – 12 angels – 12 tribes.  The obvious point is that God places a value on the 12 tribes of Israel.  No tribes are lost or left out – none are added.  The 12 tribes are represented here (just like they were with the 144K during the Tribulation) because this is the result of the promises of God.  God had called Israel & made covenants with them as a nation & the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable (Rom 11:29).  If God had chosen Israel to be His covenant people forever (which He DID), then we can be assured that God will honor that promise into eternity.  This is exactly what we see with the names of Israel being written upon the gates of the city.
  2. Is there anything else special about the gates?  Potentially it’s a reference to the fact that salvation comes from the Jews (Jn 4:22, Rom 1:16).  The promises of the Messiah were given to Israel, and from there proclaimed to the entire world.  The nation of Israel was the guardian of the Law & word of God.  They were a “gateway” to the promises of God regarding Jesus Christ.  Thus their names are on the gates of the New Jerusalem.
  3. Why are the angels at the gates?  It seems they take on a position as guardians over the city.  The idea is that this is a city that will be forever protected & safe.  No harm will be done to its citizens – ever.


14 Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

  1. 12 foundations – 12 apostles.  Not only is the Old Covenant represented in New Jerusalem, but so is the New Covenant.  Again, this is founded upon the promises of God.  The Bible tells us that the cornerstone of the Church is Christ, but its foundations are built upon the apostles & their doctrine (Eph 2:20).  Jesus told the apostles that they would sit on His right & left hand to reign with Him (Mk 10:40) – this seems to be symbolic of the place of honor they have with Christ.
    1. BTW – out of the 12 original apostles, we know one name that won’t be there: Judas Iscariot.  He had abandoned his position when he betrayed the Lord Jesus.  The book of Acts opens with the apostles & the rest of the Church deciding on Judas’ replacement (Matthias – Acts 1:26).  Some have wondered if the apostles didn’t make this decision too hastily & they should have waited for God to bring Saul/Paul to repentance.  After all, Jesus named him the apostle to the Gentiles (2 Tim 1:11), and Paul was arguably the largest influence on NT doctrine apart from Jesus Himeself.  From the description of Rev 21 of the New Jerusalem, it seems that the apostles did exactly the right thing in choosing Matthias as a replacement.  There was a role that needed to be fulfilled by having 12 apostles as a foundation for the Church (even prior to Paul’s conversion).  Just as Israel needed all 12 tribes, the Church needed all 12 apostles – which is verified here at the foundations of the eternal city.
  2. Note how the city comes together as one covenant people.  The OT & NT elders of God’s people are equally represented in the one eternal city.  The Bible tells us that Jesus tears down the wall of separation between Jew & Gentile (Eph 2:14) – between the Old Covenant for Israel & the New Covenant for the Church.  We (as Gentile believers) are grafted into the promises of Israel (Rom 11:17) – thus we partake in all of the promises given to the national descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  We are ONE people in Christ.  Yet at the same time, there is still an identity for Israel (the gates), and an identity for the Church (the foundations).  If this distinction remains into the eternal state of New Jerusalem, we can be sure that God keeps the distinction today (as shown by His place to bring all of Israel to faith in Christ… ).


15 And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. 16 The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. 17 Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.

  1. Measuring the city.  Not unlike the events of Ezekiel 40-48, when the temple is measured. All of this serves to emphasize that the city is literal.  A person does not bother measuring the dimensions of something that does not truly exist.
  2. What did it look like?  It was “laid out as a square” – technically, it was laid out as a cube (a square in 3 dimensions).  It was 12,000 furlongs in its height, length, and breadth – approx. 1380-1500 miles in each dimension.  Although technically, this could allow for a pyramid – the designation of a “square” certainly implies a cubic shape.  There’s some symbolic significance in the city being a cube – it mirrors the same idea as the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle & Temple.  In the tabernacle, the dimensions were 15 feet in each direction; Solomon’s temple doubled that to 30.  The Most Holy Place within the Tabernacle/Temple was the room in which the Ark of the Covenant & the Mercy Seat were kept – it was the place that symbolized the throne and the presence of God.  In the New Jerusalem, the entire city will be the place of the throne & the presence of God!  In ancient Jerusalem, only 1 person was allowed into the Most Holy Place during certain times of the year under certain conditions.  In the New Jerusalem, ALL people in Christ will be dwelling in that Holy place all the time for all eternity.
  3. In addition, it’s obvious that this is absolutely HUGE!  4100-4500 cubic miles.  Keep in mind that the current atmosphere of the earth is only about 300 miles thick – even at its thinnest outer limits.  (Though God will have created the new heavens & new earth at this time.)  To call it a “city” doesn’t seem to do it justice…it’s more like the size of a miniature moon!  Assuming that there would be several levels by which people could fill up the whole volume of the city, there would still be massive space there.  A single level (or “floor”) would have 2700-3000 square miles (double that of the King Ranch in south Texas or the state of Rhode Island).  There would be room for acres around!
    1. More than enough room for everyone to be saved!  Jesus is not going to run out of room there.  There’s still room for you!
  4. The wall seems to be relatively small in comparison to the rest of the city. 144 cubits = 216 feet high.  Other scholars believe this to be a reference to its thickness – in that case, it would be pretty thick!  Question: why would there be a wall (at all) for a protected city?  Typically, the wall would serve as a defense protection during battles – yet in eternity, there will be no more battles to fight.  Satan will have been cast into the lake of fire (along with Antichrist & the false prophet), and there will be no more danger of attack. Yet a wall can simply provide a boundary – and that seems to be the purpose here.  The city is the place where the people of God will be forever housed & although there is room for all, there is indeed a limit placed there.  (This isn’t Universalism where everyone in all history is saved – eventually there comes an end to the number who dwell there.)


18 The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.

  1. Considering that many of our construction projects today consist of discussions of what quality of lumber we want to get – the type of drywall we use – the quality of roofing material, etc., the building materials of the New Jerusalem make any city on earth truly pale in comparison!  This wall isn’t made out of stone; but rather gold.  Not just 18K or 24K – but 100% pure gold.  So pure & free of any deficiencies that looking at it was like looking at clear glass.  THAT’s pure & polished!
  2. Beyond the gold, the foundations of the wall were decorated with all sorts of precious stones.  Scholars note certain color schemes here: white, red, yellow, green, blue etc.  The basic idea is simply that there are a bunch of gems there & it is beautiful. Some have noticed a similarity between the gems mentioned here & the gems mentioned in the breastplate of the high priest of Israel (though there may not be an exact parallel).  The gems in the breastplate represented the tribes of Israel that were carried into the Tabernacle during the ministry to God – here, it likely shows the unity of Israel & the Church as the gems are embedded in the foundations named after the apostles.


21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

  1. Not only was the wall made out of gold, so were the streets.  This is no mere asphalt – this isn’t even the crude “yellow brick road” of the Wizard of Oz.  This is more of the purest, finest, most polished gold imaginable.  Illustrating the holiness, majesty, and wonder of Almighty God.  Just think about it: if the streets are that wonderful, how much better is the One who designed it all & dwells there?
  2. The gates were made out of pearl.  And no, I doubt that St. Peter sits at those “pearly gates” as he does in all of the jokes. 🙂  What’s interesting here is that typically a pearl is tiny.  It takes a long time for a grain of sand to be rolled around in an oyster in order to be transformed into a pearl barely big enough to fit on a necklace.  Imagine a pearl big enough to form a single gate of a city!  (It’s a big oyster!)
  3. The idea here is obviously one of unimaginable wealth & comfort & luxury.  There won’t be poverty in New Jerusalem – there won’t be months wondering if the bills are going to be paid – there won’t be sweating over taxes, etc.  All the worries over money (which consume so much of our lives) will be over.  We’ll be completely provided for by our Lord & Savior.  And again, these are all just the building materials.  They are of so much LESS worth that our God who put them all there.


–          So we’ve seen that the city is amazing & built upon the promises of God.  But the city is also holy because of Who dwells there.  See vs. 22…

22 But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

  1. One reason that Jerusalem was so beloved of the people of Israel was because that was the city in which God had chosen to place His name.  That was the city in which God showed David His glory & His desire to have the temple built there.  Israelites would travel for days just go make a pilgrimage to the city during the feasts, and for the privilege of taking their offering to the priests at the temple.  The temple was not just a part of the life of Israel; it was absolutely central to it.  (Which is one reason it was so important for Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple after the Babylonian captivity…)
  2. Yet as much as the Old Jerusalem was known for its physical temple, the New Jerusalem is not.  There is no building there in which the people will go to worship God.  Why?  Because God Himself will be there!  “The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”  The building of the temple was in Jerusalem to symbolize the throne room and the presence of God.  But in the New Jerusalem, we won’t have a need to symbolize the throne of God; it will BE there!  When Jesus is physically in the midst of His people, there is no need for anything else!
  3. We get a bit of a foreshadowing of this today in that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (both corporately as the Church, and individually as believers).


23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.

  1. Not only is there no temple, but there’s no sun.  There’s no moon.  There’s no need for any artificial light of any kind, because Jesus is the light.  This actually takes us all the way back to Genesis.  During the days of creation, we find that light was the very 1st thing created by God (on the 1st day) & that the stars & sun were not created until later (the 4th day).  Knowing that as fast as light travels (186,000 miles per second), it can’t travel back in time, where did the original light come from?  God.  In creation, the glory of God illuminated the universe.  In the new heavens & new earth we’ll experience the same thing.  There won’t be any need for the sun because the Son of God will be there.
  2. Spiritually speaking, Jesus is the light of the world NOW (Jn 8:12).  He’s the light that shines in the darkness of a sinful world showing people of the holiness & grace of Almighty God. He’ll also be the light of the world into eternity.


24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). 26 And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.

  1. What’s interesting here is the mention of kings at all.  It would have seemed that the various kingdoms of the world would have disappeared during the millennium, but yet here we see the kings of the earth bringing their own glory into the city.  It’s not an issue of whether they can add any glory to the already glorious city – it’s that their glory is absorbed & outdone by the glory that it already there.  When we turn out a flashlight in a dark room, it can appear fairly bright – but when we shine that same light outside on a sunny day, you might not even know if it’s on.  It’s a similar idea here.  The kings may have had some sort of glory & honor on their own – but when compared with the glory & honor that Christ has in the New Jerusalem, the former glory of the kings of the earth can hardly be called “glory” at all.  It doesn’t even show up in comparison to the glory of God.
  2. Again the gates are mentioned, but this time, the emphasis is on the openness of the gates.  The pearly gates are not kept closed to keep people out – but they remain open allowing people to come in.  Obviously the city is safe from attack – but it is open to whomever is able to walk into it.  The invitation remains open to all of creation to walk through the gates.


27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

  1. Yet there is one restriction on those who enter the gates: their names must first be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Chronologically speaking, those whose names were not written in the Book of Life had already been cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15).  Thus the only people that were left were those whose names WERE written in the Book of Life.  The reason for mentioning this here is to emphasize that the city is HOLY.  It’s perfect – it’s free from any stain of sin.  Those who enter it are likewise.  We are fully justified in Christ – we are made perfectly righteous in His sight because of His work upon the cross.  Thus when we enter the New Jerusalem in eternity, we will do so completely free from any stain of sin.  We will not defile the city because we will not be defiled.  We will be found perfect in Christ & thus the city will remain perfect.
  2. At the same time, there is an invitation found here for people still able to hear these words today.  We tend to want to think that everyone goes to Heaven.  Whenever someone dies, our natural tendency is to want to assume that “they’ve gone to a better place” – and that’s certainly our desire for ourselves as well.  Yet you need to know that not everyone goes to a better place.  Some people go to a far worse place!  The only people who will go to the better place (the BEST place – the New Jerusalem) are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  If your name is written in Jesus’ registry – if He knows you as someone who belongs to Him – if you’ve surrendered your life to Him as your personal Lord & Savior, than you can know without a shadow of a doubt that your name is written in the Book of Life.  Yet if you haven’t done that – then you don’t have that same assurance. You CAN have that assurance today.  Surrender your life to Christ!



Jesus has given us an eternal home & it’s glorious!  It’s an amazing city that it built upon the promises of God.  Every promise that God ever made to the nation of Israel will have been kept.  Every promise ever made to the Church will have been kept.  All the promises dealing with everlasting life find it’s fulfillment in the eternal home that Jesus provides for us in the New Jerusalem. 

It’s also a glorious holy city.  This is not a city in which we are separated from God; this is a city in which we eternally dwell with God.  We will live in His light – we will be in His presence – the very light of day will be the illumination of the glory of God.

Ultimately, what is it that makes Heaven so wonderful?  That’s where Jesus is!  Without Jesus, it would just be another city – it’d just be a place.  It might look nice, but it wouldn’t be perfect.  But because Jesus will be there, it will be absolutely perfect!  Today, we long for the day in which we’ll be with our Savior, but in that day we won’t be longing for it – we’ll be experiencing it.  Truly that’s a promise in which we can rejoice & which we can cling to in the days we need it most.

The only question is: will you be there?  Is your place assured?  There is room enough for you – there’s room for the entire world…but not everyone will be there.  You CAN know – take the time today to receive the assurance that where Jesus is, you will be also. 


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