By Samuel M. Frost
Reading the end of Revelation may cause the appearance of confusion. Reading Revelation under literary criticism, however, reduces the text to a form that is derived from the text itself – offering pointers in the text so that it is rightly understood. It is well accepted that John saw and heard these visions over a span of time (days or months we are not told) and that upon the completion of seeing and hearing them, he edited the material into the form as we now have it.
For example, John writes an Introduction (1.1-8) that was placed as such after he had already heard and seen these visions. This same format in Revelation 21-22 is seen where he adds an Epilogue (22.17-21). The last vision John saw was the New Jerusalem’s advent to earth in a new heavens and new earth. All throughout the compilation, the New Jerusalem is described (using a participlian phrase, “coming down out of heaven”, 3.12; 21.2; 21.10). It is called both the “bride” (nymphe) and “wife” (gune) of the Lord (21.9), functioning in both roles from beginning to consummation. All throughout the work, however, the New Jerusalem is in heaven. It remains in heaven yet is also “coming down out of (ek) heaven” to a new earth (since the previous earth is described as no more). The participle (“coming down”) is not a time indicator, but a stress on the continuous action describing the New Jerusalem.
This is a critical detail for the vision relates that its gates are now open (at the time John saw the vision, 21.26). The river of the water of life, which contains healing for the nations (22.2), flowing down from the throne in heaven to the inhabitants on the earth. The offer to “drink” from this water is the invitation given (21.6; 22.17). This obviously is in reference to the Gospel message, the “testimony of Jesus”, given to those who receive the Spirit. However, since the New Jerusalem is pictured as being in heaven (up there), the waters and the ability to drink is now given down here. The waters flow from up there to down here. Those who are overcoming in this life do so because they drink from the springs of water. It is in this visual aspect that the New Jerusalem is described as “coming down” in the waters and in its healing power whose source is the City itself which is “in heaven”. Ultimately the whole city comes down.
The message of Revelation is to those who overcome to the end of their lives as a faithful witness of the testimony of Jesus. It is a warning against those who may start out with good intentions, but because of the trials and temptations fall from the calling of the Lord and simply do not finish the race. “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end” (2.26) is in reference to the end of one’s life, dying in the faith. These upon death enter into the gates of the New Jerusalem in heaven. That is what is promised throughout and specifically to the “churches” throughout the world (Revelation 2-3). These, upon entrance into heaven, enter the gates of the New Jerusalem, are made a pillar, are given access to the Tree of Life, are made rulers (given thrones), are given a new name, are guided, covered, provided for and lack nothing. What is more striking is that the New Jerusalem in heaven shall encompass kings of the earth (21.24) which implies the sheer volume of the New Jerusalem to hold the nations who walk by its light, those that are called into it.
What emerges, then, is a picture of “going to heaven” upon the event of dying on earth, having drank of the living water, and having overcome by the blood of the Lamb, washing the robes that are already now given to the saints. The saints on earth are pictured as having robes, washing them in the blood of the Lamb, keeping them from being soiled (22.14) so that upon death they may “enter” the New Jerusalem. 16.15 intimates this, as well as 3.4-5, where the churches are addressed as keeping their robes pure. When the Devil is seen as hurled “out of” heaven, the saints “overcame him by the blood of the Lamb” – they “endured” and “did not love their lives as to shrink from death” (12.11); they endured to the end of their lives. These saints drink from the waters that flow from above, wash the robes given to them in the blood, remain unpolluted in that blood, and upon death, enter into the New Jerusalem in heaven….the one described as eventually “coming down out of heaven” to a new earth.
It is in the vein that we recognize in the Revelation that the word, “temple” (naos) is mentioned 16 times and is exclusively for the temple in heaven. The temple in heaven contains the throne room and the altar. It is within the temple that the activities of the angels are sent out to do their commissioned work. The “churches” are promised to enter the temple upon death (3.12; 7.15) and there serve the Lord “day and night” (7.15). What is fascinating is that when the New Jerusalem finally does come down out of heaven, there is no more night (21.25; 22.8). More strikingly, there is no more temple, “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb is its temple” (21.22). There is no mistake in the singularity of the verb “is” (where one would expect “are” for the two subjects, the Lord God and the Lamb). God Himself is the temple when the New Jerusalem finally comes down out of heaven. This is closely followed with the removal of “the curse” (22.3). While the curse is to be found, the temple remains in heaven, indicating that “up there” is still “up there” and “down here” is still “down here.” The curse brought about a separation between the full presence of God with mankind and the temple signifies this curse. In the new heavens and new earth there will no more “up there” and “down here”. All will be one, holy dwelling.
Since these images are visibly demonstrating the relationship of the Gospel, one final passage marks the fact that since the New Jerusalem is still “up there”, then those “down here” must enter inside the gates upon death. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter into the city into the gates. The dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood remain outside” (22.14,15). The washing of the robes are those who live among the dogs and evildoers on earth – down here. By washing their robes in the blood, enduring to the end of their lives, they enter into the gates of the city in heaven upon death. One description, already mentioned, is that the saints are to keep their robes from being soiled (3.6), which makes sense since they are in the world with the dogs down here. Secondly, Jesus blesses those who keep their robes, so that they are not found “naked” (16.15). From this we can infer that faith in the testimony of Jesus enables the Spirit to clothe the believer in a robe (which is symbolized as “righteousness” in 19.8). These robes are made white in the blood of the lamb. Or, another way of seeing it is that those who come to believe in Jesus already have soiled robes, and upon faith these are made white “in the blood of the Lamb” and are to be continually washed in the blood (“overcoming”) throughout their lifetime – avoiding soiling them (and when they are soiled, they are washed in the forgiving blood of the Lamb). Either way, the imagery is made plain: the saints live in a world of dogs, sorcerers, murderers and all sorts of evil people. If they maintain the faith in the testimony of Jesus (“faithful unto death”), they are promised entrance into the New Jerusalem above. To enter the City in the afterlife means that one is drinking from the waters that flow down and out of the City in heaven to earth. One is washing themselves in the blood of the Lamb down here so that upon death they “enter the gates” up there.
Since we have noticed that the 16 times the word “temple” is used, it is always used for the temple in heaven, then this has implications for 11.1 where John is told to measure the temple and its worshipers (by which we assume to mean followers of Jesus, who “worship” him in heaven, in the temple – 7.15). He is then told not the measure “the outside” for it has been given to the nations, and has been “cast out” (11.2). The term “outside” we have already encountered in 22.15. The outer courts, away from the temple in heaven, is cast out, outside, and given to the nations of the earth. Among these nations are those who proclaim the faith of Jesus, who wash their robes in the blood in a world entirely antagonistic to them. What confirms this reading is that “the temple” that John is told to measure is seen as remaining open in 11.19 of the same vision. The fact that he is told to measure the temple and those worshiping in it (Greek) means that is was opened. This has further implications, but one we cannot explore at the moment.
In conclusion, a clear picture emerges: the temple in the New Jerusalem, wherein are the throne, the ark, the worshipers (the souls of the righteous dead, those fallen asleep in faith, the martyrs), the thrones, the angels, the censors, the altar and the like are pictured as “up there” in heaven. The activity of judgments occur “down here” – things are hurled “down” from “above.” The saints are “down here” during this time (and the dead saints are up there; 6.9) and have to “overcome” by continually washing their robes in the blood til the end of their lives. “This requires great patience on behalf of the saints” – which is a main theme of the book, for the turmoil of the world and its kings, people, leaders and presidents can cause a great deal of stress – not to mention the false religions, false doctrines, cultural pressures to conform to the world – and even further those who deliberately seek the death of those who hold to the testimony of Jesus – can cause many to doubt their commitment to Jesus in a world gone mad. But, that’s the point: when we understand whats going on down here, and what awaits for us up there, the task at hand is made brighter in a dark place. And, ultimately, knowing that what’s up there is promised to finally come down here, places us in the whole purpose of it all. Each, individual saint plays a role, has a part, is issued a task, and each part hastens together with all the parts – one, big symphony of God – the arrival of the New Jerusalem out heaven to earth – where death will be no more.