We are aware that there is a difference of opinion among even our most enlightened brethren in regard to the application of this, as well as many other portions of the book of Revelation, particularly in regard to the period to which these portions refer. Some have understood this passage to refer to the gospel state of the church in the primitive age; others have thought it applicable to a state of primitive purity to which the church shall be restored before the dissolution of the world, while others again have regarded the language as descriptive of the final triumphant state of the church, after the resurrection of the dead. But while these differences have been held and expressed without giving the least offense, or disturbing the fellowship of brethren, all experimental christians have agreed in applying this Scripture to the church of the living God; and in understanding the striking and beautiful imagery as expressive and illustrative of the distinguishing doctrine of the gospel.
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband.”
Without any design to controvert the view of any brother, we will simply present such views, imperfect though they may be, as the subject suggests to our mind, and leave our readers to examine and receive or reject them, as their judgment may dictate. To us, the new heaven and the new earth which John saw, is the same which he also calls the holy city, the New Jerusalem, and both figures mean the church of Christ under the gospel dispensation. This church has existed in such form and manner as to answer the description in the text and its connection, from the time of her organization on the day of Pentecost, to the present time, and will so continue until the end of time; but her peculiar beauty is not always apparent. Since her gospel organization, she has, to all human appearance, seemed to wax and wane like the moon. Sometimes she has been involved in clouds and thick darkness, and sometimes she has looked forth as the morning - shining in the heavenly radiance of the Son of righteousness. Sometimes driven into the wilderness, and anon, she is seen standing on a sea of glass, or appearing before the throne of God and the Lamb, and sounding her loud Alleluiahs to the Lord. John seems to have had a view of her, in his visions, in every variety of attitude and circumstance which she had then, or ever should present. As the new heaven and the new earth, and as the holy city, the New Jerusalem, her gospel comeliness, as the perfection of beauty, in distinction from the old receding heaven and earth and sea, of the legal dispensation, appears. The same figurative idea is also presented by the old and new Jerusalems. As the old Jerusalem, according to Paul’s allegory, was in connection of Hagar, or Mount Sinai in Arabia, signifying her identity with the old covenant, and her bondage with her children. (Gal. iv. 25.) The new Jerusalem is free, and the mother of us all, who, as Isaac was, are the children of promise; so the old heavens and earth which had passed away, must, if we are correct in understanding their figurative import as being the same, refer to the abolition of the ceremonial covenant, and the new heaven and earth, must refer to the new covenant and its dispensation.
Israel, under the legal covenant, embraced or embodied those elements which were destined to melt with fervent heat, when the old heavens should be rolled together as a scroll, and as a vesture be laid aside. As an old heaven, that order of things had its elements, as the sun, or inspired revelation; its moon, or the embodied types, which borrowed light from the sun, and reflected it upon the people of God under that dispensation, and its stars, the prophets of the Lord; but all these were shadows of good things to come, the substance or body of which is Christ.
The glory of the new heaven is beautifully set forth in the sublime language of the inspired psalmist, Psalm xix. 1-6, “The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the Son; which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the ends of the heaven, and his circuit unto the end of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.” Philosophers, astronomers and wise men of the earth, have ever found much to admire in the contemplation of the natural heavens, where worlds of living light and beauty proclaim to all the families of the earth, the surpassing workmanship of God. But how much more sublime and elevated must be the contemplation of the new heaven and new earth, when the mind, illuminated by divine revelation, is permitted to “mount up and view the glories of the eternal skies.” The church of God, under this figure, presents her sun, her moon, her stars, and all in perfect harmony pour forth their floods of living light in honor of him who has garnished the heavens, and marshaled all the heavenly hosts. In the new heaven which John saw, and which all enlightened christians may see, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Sun of righteousness with healing in his wings, comes out of his chamber, as a bridegroom. Riding upon the heavens in the help of his people, and in his excellency on the sky. Like a strong man, and as the man whom God has made strong for himself, the man Christ Jesus, rejoiceth to run his race. One and identical with the Father in absolute Deity and eternal Godhead, yet filling, as Mediator, the place of Days-man, who can lay his hand on both,” he is worshiped and adored by all the angels and spirits of the just, before the throne of heaven. He bows his heavens and comes down to find and fill that tabernacle which he has set in the new heaven for the Sun. His brightness, says the prophet Habakkuk, was like the light, he had horns coming out of his hand, and there was the hiding of his power. He is the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person. As the natural sun rises in the east, and pours his radiance unto the extreme west, so the Sun of righteousness is from everlasting to everlasting. His going forth is from the end of heaven, even from everlasting, and his circuit is unto the ends of it. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending, the Almighty. How gloomy would be the natural heavens without the natural sun; but how much more gloomy would be the spiritual heaven without Christ. He is the fountain and source of all spiritual light. He is the light of the world; for there is no spiritual light in the world but what is in him. He shines in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. He has bespangled the new heavens with stars, which he holds in his right hand; but all their brilliancy is by the light reflected from him through them. He has given gifts for the edification of the body, the church, and these he has marshaled in their appropriate orbits, and they cannot, nor do they desire to turn either to the right hand or to the left. The apostles had their spheres appointed, and so with all the gifts of prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, for he holds them in his right hand; nor will he allow the voluntary associations of men, or mission boards, or ecclesiastical dignitaries to pluck them from his hand. His clouds of witnesses are in the new heavens, charged with the thunder of his word, and the lightning of his truth. “Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds.” - Zech. x. 1. Through his bright clouds his doctrine shall drop as the rain, and his speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as showers upon the grass. (Deut. xxxii. 2.) In the clouds of this new heaven he makes the rainbow of the covenant appear. John saw a rainbow encircling the throne on which the Prince of glory presides. (Rev. iv. 3; x. 1.)
Time and space and ability fail in our attempt to describe the superior glory of the new heaven and the new earth. All the elements of the holy Jerusalem are new; nothing of the old remains, they are like a vesture laid aside, and their elements are melted with fervent heat. Behold, says Christ, I make all things new. Paul was caught up to the third heaven, and saw what he was unable to describe of the new heaven, and it is not surprising that our limited powers should utterly fail to express things which are so indescribably glorious.
John says, “And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.” It is impossible for the wisdom of this world to comprehend the origin of the church of God. Many imagine that it is composed of flesh and blood; that it comes by observation; that men are employed, and money invested, for the purpose of procuring from the earth a kingdom for our Lord; that men are to win a bride for the lamb. But they do not know that his bride is already betrothed, and already prepared as a bride for her husband. They do not know that this kingdom was with God, as a prepared kingdom from the foundation of the world. (Matt. xxv. 34.) The holy city was not seen coming up, but coming down from God; her origin is above, her life is hid with Christ in God. Nor does she descend to earth to procure a bridal dress, or to make preparation for the consummation of the marriage; for, like everything that comes from God, she comes already prepared. A boundless theme for contemplation is presented in the ancient preparation of the bride for her husband. As set forth in the figure of the first Adam, whose bride was provided in his original creation and formation, so as far back into the ancients of eternity as we can trace the goings forth of Christ in his Mediatorial capacity, we may contemplate the church of God set up in him who was set up from everlasting, chosen in him, blessed with all spiritual blessings in him, by which she is not only prepared, but also adorned as a bride for her husband. She is and was clothed with salvation before the world began; for Paul says, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling; not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” Clothed in his salvation, and covered with his righteousness, and adorned with all the rich gifts of the Spirit, shed with the preparation of the gospel, wearing the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, she is well described as the perfection of beauty. (Psalm 1.2.) And her language is, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God: for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with jewels.” - Isaiah lxi. 10. He whose works were all finished from the foundation of the world, (Heb. iv. 3), hath thus clothed, beautified and adorned her; and, thus prepared, she is made manifest by revelation. So we see that this holy city, this New Jerusalem, is not only adorned for her Husband; but she is adorned by her Husband. She has not clothed herself with salvation, nor covered herself with righteousness. He hath done it all, and in thus clothing and adorning her, he hath done it all in a manner calculated to express the union and relationship of the Bridegroom and the bride. He has clothed and covered her with salvation and righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself, not as he decketh another; for she is recognized by him as the bone of his bones, and the flesh of his flesh; and in adorning her with ornaments, and decking her with jewels, it is all done by him as unto himself, and not as for another. Thus the church, though viewed in any other light than that of her relationship to Christ, is black as the tents of Kedar, yet in the comeliness which Christ has put upon her, she is as white and spotless as the curtains of Solomon. (Cant. i. 5.)
“And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men,” &c. The great voice which John heard, is the voice of the Bridegroom, and the voice of the bride; or in other words, the voice of Christ, by his Spirit through the gifts which he has bestowed upon his members; and this is truly a great voice in many respects. It is great, as being his voice by which the worlds were made, by which dead sinners are made alive in a spiritual sense, and by which all that are in their graves shall be raised at the last day. Great, as emanating from him who has all power in heaven and in earth. Great, because of the importance of the proclamation uttered, and great as being proclaimed in every nation, language and tongue, throughout the world, through the gifts bestowed upon his church. The heaven from which John heard this voice, is the new heaven of which he had a revelation as declared in this text, and evidently means the church of the living God, which is the ground and pillar of the truth. The gospel of the Son of God proclaims what John heard, namely, “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them,” &c. The tabernacle which Moses made in the wilderness, according to the pattern which the God of Israel showed him in the holy mount, was a type or figure of the tabernacle intended in our text, and was to be set up in manner and form precisely as it stood in the mount of God when Moses first saw it, and to be made of the materials which God had before designated, and it was to be consecrated to the purpose by him ordained, and to contain the ark of the covenant, the mercy-seat, the cherubims of glory, and to be the place where the God of heaven would meet his chosen tribes, in the person of their High Priest, and commune with them from between the cherubims, and from over the mercy-seat.
The body in which Christ appeared in his incarnation, may be viewed as a tabernacle of God, for God was manifest in the flesh, and in that body all the church of the first-born was represented. The fullness of the Godhead bodily and the church was and is complete in him. But in the immediate sense of the text under consideration, the mystical body, the church, is in our view, intended as the antitypical tabernacle of God. The psalmist says of the church, “God is in the midst of her.” - Psalm xlvi. 5. And again, “For the Lord hath chosen Zion: he hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest forever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread.” - Psalm cxxxii. 13-15. The application of the figure of the tabernacle in the wilderness, as designed to prefigure the true tabernacle into which Christ has, by his own blood, and through the eternal Spirit, entered, is very clearly stated in Heb. viii. 2-5; ix 2-14. It is a tabernacle made without hands. For God dwelleth in the church, as we have proven, but we are told that God dwelleth not in tabernacles made with hands, therefore the church is a building of God, a house or tabernacle not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Cor. v. 1.) A kingdom prepared for the saints from the foundation of the world. (Matt. xxv. 34.) A stone cut out of the mountain without hands. (Dan. ii. 45.) But in the revelation made to John, Behold it is with men. This holy city, New Jerusalem comes down from God, out of heaven, and is set up in gospel order, according to the pattern in the mount of God, and God, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, comes down to dwell in it, because he has desired it, and he will dwell in this tabernacle forever. The church is frequently spoken of as the temple as well as the tabernacle of the Lord, which signifies his special dwelling-place. In the mystical body of Christ what wonders are revealed. The eternal God and redeemed sinners meet together there. The saints are redeemed unto God, and God is in Christ. Here the fullness of eternal Godhead is embodied, and here the church is complete; the fullness of him that filleth all in all. And he, the eternal God, will dwell with them, (Eph. i. 23; Col. ii. 9, 10,) with men redeemed from the earth. What a wonderful household is this! God dwells with his people: “And they shall be his people.” “They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.” - Mal. iii. 17. And this is the special provision of the new covenant, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Heb. viii. 10; Jer. xxxi. 33.) And God himself shall be with them, and be their God. He will never leave nor forsake them; and he will put his fear in their heart, that they shall not depart from him, and he will not turn away from them to do them good. He will be their God, to protect and defend them, to feed and comfort them, to wipe away all their tears. He will be their God, as the object of their worship, their adoration and praise; they shall trust atone in him, and have no other God before him. They are safe while he condescends to be with them as their God. The eternal God is their refuge, and underneath them are his everlasting arms; their place of defense is the munition of rocks; God is a wall of fire around about, and a glory in their midst. He is their Shepherd, they shall not want. He leads them in green pastures by the living waters. And “The Lamb, that is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” - Rev. vii. 17.
Middletown, N. Y.
Dec. 1, 1855.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 276 - 284