Dr. Andy Woods
God’s Two Great Programs, Revelation 21:9-17
Let’s take our Bibles and open them to the Book of Revelation, chapter 21 and verse 9. The title of our message this morning is the “Two Great Programs of God,” or maybe better abbreviated “God’s Two Great Programs.” How’s that? Happy February to everybody. I’m still signing my checks 2019 and they switched the month on me. By the way, did you know today is 02-02-2020? Wow, maybe the rapture will happen today. Maybe the Lord planned it this way.
Revelation 21:9. Continuing to move through of the Book of Revelation, we’re kind of at that section of the book where the tribulation judgments are in the past, the return of Christ is in the past, and now we’re looking at things that will happen after Jesus comes back. We saw the kingdom, Revelation 20:1-10; we saw the Great White Throne Judgment, Revelation 20:11-15. We even saw the destruct-ion of the earth. Did you catch that? Chapter 21:1, and now we’re at the tail end of the Book of Revelation where we’re learning about the new heavens and the new earth, the eternal state in other words.
Verses 1-8, which we completed last week is a description of the new heavens and new earth in general. And here we learn that God has a plan to take the current heavens and earth that exists, destroy it by fire, and replace it with a new order. But then this morning we pick it up at verse 9 and this section really goes all the way through chapter 22:5, we’ll just barely get started on it this morning but it’s not just about the new heavens and new earth, it’s about the city that’s coming to the earth, the New Jerusalem in which dwells righteousness. Of course, that city is our ultimate home, it’s our destination. It’s what we should be looking for.
Abraham, Hebrews 11:10, was looking for a city whose builder and maker is God. [Hebrews 11:10, “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”] Is that what you’re looking for? I think sometimes we get so wrapped up in the things of this earth that we forget where our ultimate destination is.
So as we begin to look at this city, the New Jerusalem, here’s our outline that we’re going to be working through, just barely starting it this morning. But notice, if you will, first of all the city has four titles. This city that’s coming to the earth doesn’t just have one title, it’s got four. And take a look if you could at Revelation 21:9, it says, “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying,” now if you cross reference that with Revelation 17:1 you’ll see the exact same verbiage describing or previewing the wicked city of Babylon. Revelation 17:1 says, “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters.”
And so first we had a description of the wicked city, the city of man, the city that is destined for destruction. And one of the things I love about the Bible is it just doesn’t reveal information about the wickedness that’s coming to the earth, it gives you the other side of the story, the glorious city that cannot be shaken on the horizon. That’s why the Book of Revelation, when you read through it is sort of a bittersweet experience. Revelation 10:10, John says, “I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and in my mouth, it was sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.” So yes, there’s these wonderful things that are coming but the earth is going to pass through a lot of problems first.
So it’s a wonderful thing to study the Book of Revelation yet at the same time it’s sort of an eye opening thing to discover the things that God is going to put the planet through in terms of judgment before we get to that glorious time period.
But you continue on with verse 9 and you start seeing the two titles, the first two of four, that God has given to this city that’s coming. He says in chapter 21 and verse 9, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” Now that should ring a bell because that’s our status in Jesus Christ, isn’t it? He is the groom, we are the bride. The day will come in history where we will be married, He will be the husband, we will be the wife. And how fitting it is that we’re going to be put into an environment that fits our identity. We are the bride of Christ soon to become the wife of the Lamb, how fitting it is we would go into a city called the bride and the wife; the bride and the wife are the first two designations or titles of this city that’s coming.
You know, we really as Christians don’t fit exactly into this world, do we? We seem to be kind of oddly placed, we sort of march to the beat of a different drummer and so many times we’re looking for acceptance in this world. The reality of the situation is we’re never going to find it because our identity is different than the world. I’ll never exactly fit into this world but I will fit into the environment that’s coming that God has created just for me and just for you. Philippians 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is” where? “in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” We’re “eagerly” awaiting that coming city.
As we continue on with verse 10 we discover two more designations or titles of this coming city. And notice what it says there in verse 10, “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem….” So first the city is called Bride, and then it’s called Wife and then it’s called Holy City, and then it’s called Jerusalem. I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to a holy city, a city where we don’t have back room deals and scams and trickery and deceit but a city in which dwells righteousness.
And did you know that if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ as I speak the name of that city has already been inscribed on you. Revelation 3:12 talks about the various names that have been inscribed on us spiritually the moment we trusted in Christ. One of those names, Revelation 3;12, is the name Jesus says of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven”. [Revelation 3:12, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; 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 out of heaven from My God, and My new name.”]
And you say, well, why is this city coming down out of heaven? I’m glad you asked, because the rest of verse 10 seems to describe that. It talks there about the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. That’s how the city was described. You might remember back in Revelation 21:2. it’s coming down out of heaven. [Revelation 21:2, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; 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 out of heaven from My God, and My new name.”] And there’s a picture of it, look at that, and it lands right there on the State of Texas, right? [Laughter] The capital of the millennium. No, I don’t think that’s in the Bible! I don’t think Paul was a Texan, by the way, because it says he was content no matter what state he was in. [Laughter]
But wherever it’s going to exist it’s going to be magnificent. And why is it that this city comes down out of heaven. By the way, I believe that this city is in existence right now because Galatians 4:26 says, “But the Jerusalem above is free;” “Is” in the Greek is a present tense verb. The city is currently in existence and yet it’s not yet on the earth; it’s not fit to come to the earth because it’s a perfect city. It’s a holy city, and the current heavens and earth are contaminated by sin.
Romans 8:22 says because of Adam’s sin, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” What a time period that we’re living in where death and disease, even just this last week the untimely and unfortunate death of a basketball hero, Kobe Bryant, and we’re just sort of stunned by this; is this the kind of world that we’re living in where someone that so many people look up to and respect can be taken from us in just a moment?
We learn here that the world that we’re living in is really not the way God designed it. Adam’s sin corrupted it and the whole creation is groaning and suffering the pains of childbirth unto now, and consequently we are awaiting eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”
The reality of the situation is such a perfect city is not fit for this planet. God has to take this world and destroy it by fire first and replace it with something brand new, something that sin has never contaminated for that city to descend or else you’d have a holy city on an unholy earth because the creation now is in a state of bondage.
It’s interesting that even in the millennial kingdom itself, the thousand years that we just emerged studying from, that sin continues, it’s restrained, the curse is restrained, death even exists to some extent, there’s death and Satanic activity at the end, rebellion at the end. Many, many verses of the Bible reveal this. Zechariah 14: 16-18 even speaks of a rebellion amongst the earth dwellers during that time period. [Zechariah 14: 16-18, “Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.  And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them.  If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the Lord smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.”]
But how different it’s going to be with this heavens and earth dissolved and replaced by a new heavens and a new earth, Revelation 20:11, Revelation 21:1. [Revelation 20:11, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.” Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.”]
People are concerned about global warming and we’re here to tell you that true global warming is coming to planet earth. 2 Peter 3:10 says “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” This world is dissolved and it’s replaced by something new, something that sin has never touched nor contaminated and now with that new environment the city which exists now is ready to descend. And this is what John is seeing here in the Book of Revelation.
And we continue on into verse 11 and we learn even more about this coming city. Look at the beginning there of verse 11, “Having the glory of God, her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper.” Notice the beginning of the verse there, verse 11, “the glory of God.” Isn’t it interesting that humanity begins with the glory of God? The world begins with “the glory of God.” God said, “Let there be light.” 1 Timothy 6:16 tells us that God dwells in unapproachable light. [1 Timothy 6:16, “who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”]
And how fitting it is for things to end with the glory of God. In fact, this is a lot of theological verbiage but we are following a particular viewpoint at this church, dispensational theology, what to explain here, which we won’t get into, but you’ll notice there point number three, God’s overall purpose is to bring glory to Himself.
He continues on and it says God’s ultimate purpose for the ages is to glorify himself. Scripture is not human centered (as though salvation were the principal point) but God centered because His glory is at the center. “The glory of God is the primary principle,” quoting a little bit here from Charles Ryrie, “The glory of God is the primary principle that unifies all dispensations,” or ages of time in other words, “the program of salvation being just one of the means by which God glorifies Himself. Each successive revelation of God’s plan for the ages, as well as His dealing with the elect, non-elect, angels, and nations all manifest His glory.” [Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, Charles Ryrie, p. 94]
Think of all of the programs God has in creation, creation of the world, creation of the nations, creation of Israel, creation of the church. And then there’s coming the rapture of the church, the restoration of Israel, the judgment of the nations, the judgment of creation. And what is it all about at the end of the day? God is working strategically in history to glorify Himself. That’s His overarching purpose. And if that’s His overarching purpose that’s what God wants to do through my life and your life. So many people go through life struggling concerning why they exist, why they’re here, why they have the gifting that they have, why they’ve had the life experiences that they’ve had, wanting to know how else it fits together and actually it’s not as complicated as people make it out to be.
God’s purpose for your life is to glorify Himself through you. That’s why you were born; that’s why you were conceived, that’s why you were brought into His world, this world, at a particular time in history. And until we press into that purpose we wander through life with emptiness, confusion, wondering what is it all about. And yet His purpose in everything is glorification and that’s what He wants to do in your life.
I like how the Westminster Confession puts it: “The chief end of man,” meaning his ultimate purpose, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That’s our chief end, that’s our chief purpose, that’s why we exist. And if I’m trying to live my life outside of that purpose, not understanding why I am here then I’ll just stumble and stumble and trip all the way through life.
You’ll notice that this city, and by the way, Ephesians 3:21 tells us that’s His purpose in the church, to glorify Himself. [Ephesians 3:21, “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”] What is church all about? Why are we here? To put on a bunch of activities? To administer a budget? NO, those are just sub purposes but the chief purpose is to Him be the glory of the church. And so you get along with the Lord and you say Lord, I want You to glorify Your life through my life however you choose to do so. And all of a sudden God says we’re in business, because as long as I’m trying to fit God into my purposes and fit God into my plans I’m missing the whole point of the existence which is God speaking to glorify Himself. God gives us all individual talents and abilities and so many times we use those things for selfish self-serving motives, not fully understanding that God has given us those things so that He might glorify Himself through us. Is that the prayer of your heart? If it is your life will start to make sense; my life will start to make sense because that’s God’s chief purpose.
You’ll notice as you move into the second part of verse 11 it says, “Her brilliance” the city, “was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper.” Lots of colors here in Revelation 21 and 22. And that’s my best guess as to what these colors look like; it’s got to be true because we found this on the internet. Right? [Laughter] So I think when you see “jasper” it’s probably that upper left box there, but we’ll be referring to this as we go through. It’s interesting to me how God is into art and colors and beauty. We think of the colors of the rainbow. Or we think of all of the beauty associated with the tabernacle, the different colors that the priests embroidered their robes with, the high priest and all of the colors involved and you see that in God from cover to cover in God’s Word. And certainly that will continue throughout the ages and the eons of time.
In fact, it’s interesting to watch people when they struggle with eye sight, maybe they have color blindness, or they’ve got some issue and then you’ve got them on camera, they put something in their eyes or they put the right frames on or the right glasses on and then suddenly they can see things as they’re meant to be seen. And it’s interesting to sort of watch the emotional reaction of them, many of them begin to weep and cry and breakdown. And yet that’s what eternity is like; you’re seeing things the way God designed them; you’re seeing things the way God intended.
And we leave verse 11 and now we come to the city’s construction and here we run into a wall, verse 12, gates, verses 12 and 13, and foundations, verse 14. And here is where we begin to discover why we entitled this message The Two Great Programs of God. God has two great programs for revealing the human race. He’s worked through two entities and He’s never going to allow a memory of those two entities from going out of existence. Notice, if you will, verse 12 as we look at the wall of this great city that’s coming. “It had a great and high wall,” well how tall is it? I’m glad you asked because we’re going to get the measurements a little bit later, verses 15, 16 and 17. But notice also the gates, notice what it says there in verse 12, “It had a great and high wall,” watch this, “with twelve gates,” and then it goes on and it says, “and it had at the gates twelve angels;” angels at each gate, and of course this reminds of Genesis chapter 3 verse 24, where God stationed an angel, in this case angels, cherubim, outside of Eden to prevent man from re-entering Eden in his fallen state.
Genesis 3:24 says, “So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim” that’s angels, “and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.” God’s stationing angels outside of the gate, in this case Eden, is sort of what He’s doing here with these twelve gates, an angel at each gate.
And continuing on with verse 12 notice what it says here, it’s very interesting. “…and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.” This is God’s first great program. God purposed to cycle, to funnel, whatever word you want to use, His blessings to the world through the nation of Israel. This what the calling of Abraham was all about in Genesis 12. God was very clear in Genesis 12:3, “And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.” And then God says, “and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” You’ll notice that when God blesses He blesses for the purpose of being a blessing. God never blessed Abram and his descendants just for the benefit of Abram and his descendants; He always intended that blessing to spill over to other people.
And you may be looking at your life today financially, or talent wise or any number of things, you have some ability to do something that others can’t do and you might be asking yourself, well, why did God give me this ability. Or why did God put me in this financial situation? And always with God it’s never for the intent of just you enjoying that thing or whatever it is, on your own, it’s for the intention of being a blessing for somebody else. God blessed you to be a blessing. And by the way, in life that’s where you’ll be the happiest. How do you spell joy? With these letters, JOY! J, Jesus first, O, Others second, Y, Yourself last.
Because the Bible says it’s better to give than to receive. We in America think it’s the other way around, it’s get, get, get, receive, receive, receive and yet we’re not happy, so many people are unhappy, they’re unfulfilled because they’re ignoring the priorities of God. And so God blessed Abram for the purpose of being a blessing and that becomes the foundation of the nation of Israel, Genesis 29-30 where now the twelve tribes came into existence through Jacob. There’s come complicated genealogies there but the bottom line is we have Jacob’s dozen, the twelve tribes of Israel, coming into existence for the purpose of being a blessing to others. And we ought to have respect for Israel and the twelve tribes of Israel, and the patriarch Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because this is who God chose to work through.
You say well why didn’t God use the Egyptians or the Phoenicians or whoever. Ask God, I don’t know, but He made a sovereign decision to work through the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now Israel has been cut off from God’s olive tree temporarily because of unbelief. And God has brought into that olive tree wild branches that really don’t belong. Who do you think those wild branches are? That’s us as members of the church, the predominantly Gentile church. And the problem with the church over the last two thousand years is she has lost sight of her Jewish heritage and the Apostle Paul predicted this day would come so he corrects the attitude of the unnatural branches (that’s us) towards the natural branches or the Jews who, through unbelief, have been cut out of their own tree. And He says this in Romans 11:18, “do not” that’s us, “be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.” The reality of the situation is we would have absolutely nothing in God today as Gentile Christians in the year 2020 had God not strategically worked through the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And so we should look at the Jewish people and the nation of Israel in particular with gratitude, not hostility, not animosity, and sadly over the last two thousand years of church history the church has been the exact opposite and it has looked with hostility towards the Jews. Terrible things have been said about the Jews by Christians over the last few thousand years. That goes directly against what Paul says to us, “Do not be arrogant towards the branches.” If God can do the agricultural miracle of taking wild branches that don’t belong and putting them into a tree (that’s us) how hard do you think it is for God to reach out His hand and put back into the same tree the branches that are supposed to be there?
And in fact, Romans 11 continuing on with it, that’s exactly what God plans to do. Romans 15:27 says this: “For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.” Paul says watch your attitude very carefully as a Gentile Christian. It’s because of God’s work through them that you have spiritual things and so you ought to have a desire to share with them material things. Of course, the ultimate thing you could share with a Jewish person is the gospel which teaches them the plan of salvation. But God has a whole purpose in mind where the nation of Israel, a nation born in a day, Isaiah 66 says, will get saved in future end time events.
God has not forgotten the Jewish nations. In fact, God will never forget the Jewish nation. In fact, we learn here in verse 12 that every time you go in and out of the city you’ll see these gates and these gates are named after the twelve tribes and this city lasts forever, and you’ll never lose sight of what God did through the Jewish nation. The reality of the situation is Israel can explain its origin without the church but the church has no similar luxury. The church cannot explain its origin without Israel because when you read the Book of Acts, you learn that Christianity flowed out of, the church flowed out of God’s work through the nation of Israel. And this is why God is never going to allow the memory of Israel to be blotted out of existence; each of these gates is named after the twelve tribes.
We continue on with verse 13 and this is where we begin to learn that this city that’s coming is sort of going to be laid out like a cube, if you will. It says there that, “There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west.” [Revelation 21:13] Three sides, we know that there were twelve tribes, according to my old math that means three gates per side, meaning the city itself is going to be laid out like a giant cube.
And then it goes on and doesn’t just talk about the gates but it talks about the foundations of the city. Look at what it says there in verse 14, “And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones,” so we have twelve foundation stones underneath this particular city. Now who are these foundation stones named after? This is the second great program of God; here we’re not dealing with Israel any more, we’re dealing with His second work, the church. “And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Twelve foundation stones named after each of the twelve apostles.
When it became clear that the nation of Israel was going to reject their Messiah nationally Jesus began to describe His program for the coming church because God does not leave the earth without a witness of Himself. God doesn’t say oh no, the nation of Israel is not following the way I want it to follow so as an afterthought I’ll create the church. NO, God always knew the church would come into existence, it just hadn’t been revealed yet. God was not taken off guard but through the nation’s rejection of their own Messiah as recorded in the Gospels He always purposed in mind to raise up the church.
Who is the church? It’s anybody, Jew or Gentile, that’s trusted in the Messiah that Israel rejected. They are part, not of a nation but a new spiritual man, global, worldwide called the church. In fact, God turned lemons into lemonade, because it looked like a terrible tragedy had happened as the nation of Israel rushed Jesus through their own judicial system to get Him turned over to the Romans for execution. And yet God strategically used that terrible event in history to pay the sin debt of the entire world. The flood gates of salvation were open now to every single human being and to get the message out He created on the day of Pentecost a new man called the church, the bride, the body of Christ, a movement of God that has been going on for the last two thousand years.
And if anybody has trusted in the very Messiah for personal salvation that Israel rejected they are baptized or automatically by the Spirit of God identified with this new man called the church. Jesus said this: “I also say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock,” now “this rock” is tricky, it’s Peter’s confession, “upon this rock I will build” future tense, in other words it didn’t exist yet when Jesus made this statement, “and upon this rock I will build My church,” and look at this, “the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.”
But Andy, look at all of the problems today in modern day Christendom—yeah, I see them! But I also see this, a promise from God that the gates of Hades will not over power the church. And Jesus made a decision to build the church on the right foundation and that right foundation is the twelve apostles. Ephesians 2:20 says, “ having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” Now the corner stone is the first stone you put into a temple and when you put it in you’re going to organize all of the other parts around that corner stone. Jesus is the corner stone of the church metaphorically speaking. But then the temple metaphorically has to be built on the right foundation and the right foundation is the twelve apostles of the Lamb and thus began the great building project of the church beginning in Acts 2. Israel exits stage left, the church enters stage right and for the last two thousand years God has been at work in an through the church. The church’s assignment is to go into all of the world “and make disciples of all nations.” [Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”]
And that’s why when Judas committed suicide they got a little nervous, these guys. I mean, now we’ve got eleven instead of twelve. And so you’ll find them finding a replacement in Matthias, Acts 1:15-26, we can’t have eleven, there’s got to be twelve because we’ve got four walls around this city, three foundations on each side, there’s got to be twelve total.
[Acts 1:15-26, “At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred twenty persons was there together), and said,  “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.  For he was counted among us and received his share in this ministry.”  (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out.  And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)  “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead be made desolate, And let no one dwell in it’; and, ‘Let another man take his office.’  Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—  beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”  So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias.  And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen  to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”  And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was [i]added to the eleven apostles.”]
And so what you have every time you go in and out of the city and you look at the foundations throughout the eons of time you’re reminded of the church; God’s great building project. And then you actually look at the gates and you see above every gate a name of a tribe inscribed and you’re reminded of Israel. And God here is never allowing the memory of Israel and the church ever to go out of existence because these are His two great programs. It’s fascinating how much effort God has gone to, to maintain this clear distinction.
Back to dispensationalism for a minute; we hold to a literal approach to the Bible. Number 2, what does that yield? It yields an understanding that Israel and the church are distinct. They are complete and total separate programs of God. And God will never allow the memory of either Israel or the church to fade from memory in eternity as these different parts of the city are referring back to those two great programs.
Charles Ryrie, in his Ryrie Study Bible puts it this way: “Though both Jewish saints and Christian saints will inhabit this city the names of the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles are a witness of their continued distinction.” Close quote. I bring this up because there are many, many people that hate what I’m talking about. In fact, some people, the way they conduct themselves online their whole life is guaranteed towards debunking what I’ve just said. And if such people are in fact saved I guarantee you this much, they’re going to be miserable in the eternal state because they won’t even be able to go in and out of the city without thinking about Israel and also with the church.
Now we go on to verses 15-17 and here we learn that this city has specific measurements. Notice if you will verse 15, we have a measuring angel, verse 15, the measurements of the cube, verse 16, the measurements of the wall, verse 17, and notice what it says there in verse 15. [Revelation 21:15-17, “The one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall.” So now we run into an angel, this angel has “a gold measuring rod” and he’s actually going to measure for us the gates and the wall. And we move away from the measuring angel to the cube itself and look if you will at verse 16, “The city is laid out as a square,” this is where our cube idea comes from, “as long as it was wide; and he measured the city with the rod, and found it to be one thousand, five hundred miles in length as high as it was long.”
Well how big is this city? There’s a picture of the continental United States of America and this would basically be the size of the city, roughly half or a little over half of the size of the United States of America. And it goes on in verse 17 and it talks about the wall of the city, notice what it says: “And he measured its wall, and it was one hundred and forty four cubits thick” watch this now, “by man’s measurements which the angel was using. Now you’ll notice that the measuring that’s used are man’s measurements; the measurements that the angel is using is the same measurements that we use.
And I bring this up because a lot of people are saying “oh, you know, come on, you can’t take this literally because God a mile can mean one thing or an inch can mean one thing or a yard can be one thing to us it can mean something different. When the Bible says God created the world in six days people say well that’s just days for us, not our days. You mean God has His days and we have our days? That’s not what the Bible says. What the Bible says is the angel is using the measurements of man so that there would be no misunderstanding concerning the exact size of this particular city. So if these measurements are literal (and I think they are), Charles Ryrie puts it this way: “Shaped four-square like a cube, the city is 1,380 miles” now if you’re into the metric system that would be 2,220 kilometers) “on each face, including height, with a wall 72 yards or (66 meters) thick.” So we’re not just given the size of the walls, we’re given their thickness. “It has been calculated that even if only 25 percent of this space were used for dwellings, 20 billion people could be accommodated spaciously.”
This is just describing the city, it’s not even describing everybody on planet earth but I look at this and I think that’s good news. That to me means there’s going to be a lot of people saved throughout the eons of time. You know, sometimes we camp so heavily on verses like Luke 18:8, you know, when the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?” [Luke 18:8, “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”]
And Jesus, the whole world has gone to hell in a handbasket but you’ve got me, I’m the only one! Kind of like what Elijah said and God told Elijah, relax, there’s seven thousand others that you don’t even know about. And we get this kind of bunker mentality that it’s me against the world and nobody else believes the way I do. I don’t think that’s true; I think it’s going to be stunning to see how many people are saved throughout the ages of time. Why are we going to be so many? Because God has made salvation so simple. And if a person misses salvation they don’t have anybody to blame but themselves because God has done all the work and made it so simple. More on that in just a minute.
You go through the description of this city and look at these words that are used, the eternal state’s literal nature. 1. “city,” “Jerusalem,” (21:2). 2. “gold,” jasper,” “glass” “wall” (21:18) 3. “square miles,”( 21:16) 4. “high” (21:12) 5. “seventy-two yards,” (21:17) 6. “gates” (21:12) 7. “pearls,” (21:21). 8. “tribes,” (21:12) 9. “foundations,” “apostles,” (21”14); 10. “street” (21:21); 11. “river” (22:1); 12. “tree of life (22:2); 13. “fruit,” “month,” “nations,” “leaves.”
And if those terms were used anywhere else in the Bible everybody would take it literally. But for some reason, when these exact same terms are used here people say it’s not literal. I’m here to tell you that dispensationalism, which is the belief that we’re following, thrives on a consistent literal approach. We take the Bible wherever we can at face value; we don’t just do it in the Gospels, we don’t just do it in Romans, we even do it in Genesis 1-11. That’s why we are not promoters here of Darwinism, “from the goo to the zoo to you over millions of years,” because that’s not found through a literal approach or understanding of the Bible. And we take it that way at the end of the Bible. So, fifteen hundred miles square cube–what does it mean? It means a fifteen-hundred-mile square cube. That is what it means. But you would be shocked at the number of people that will just dismiss that.
Here are a few quotes compiled by Paul Lee Tan; Paul Lee Tan is a literalist but he’s compiled some quotes of people and commentaries that just refuse to take this text for what it says. One commentator commenting on these verses, Sweet, said: “Such dimensions defy imagination and are permissible only in the language of symbolism.” Barnes wrote some very good books called Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, he says: “Of course, this must preclude all idea of there being such a city literally in Palestine…” he’s got the name wrong but that’s another discernment, “ this cannot be understood literally; and the very idea of a literal fulfillment of this shows the absurdity of that method of interpretation…this cannot be taken literally; and an attempt to explain all of this literally would show that that method of interpreting the Apocalypse is impracticable.” [Paul Lee Tann Cited in, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 1974), 285-86] This is what passes today from modern day scholarship.
Another commentator [Grant: ] says “no clearer proof…that all is figurative. Such a height is simply out of harmony with the constitution of our world.” Excuse me Mr. Professor, Mr. commentator, can I ask a question? We’re not talking about our world anymore; maybe you can make some argument that doesn’t fit in our world, we aren’t even talking about our world any more, we’re talking about the new heavens and new earth in which dwells righteousness. Lorraine Boettner, we were just talking about Lorraine Boettner a little earlier, says, “Neither the shape nor the dimensions of the city can be taken with mathematical exactness, as if it were a gigantic apartment house.” [Paul Lee Tan, Cited in, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 1974), 285-86.]
Here’s the bottom line, folks. God means what He says and says what He means. In fact, He’s even used the measurements of man to get the point across, whether we comprehend it or not, understand it or not, whether I can fit it into my particular preconceived idea, God means to be understood and He has for us coming in the future descending this eternal city, which is a 1500 by 1500 by 1500-mile cube, I’m looking forward to it.
Another person says, “Viewed literally, one thousand three hundred eighty square miles high is viewed as sufficient reason not to take these images as fully literal.” The preceding discussion serves to warn against a hyper literal approach to apocalyptic literature.”
Let me tell you something about these guys quotes, they know how to call names, they just five you the name hyper literal oh my goodness, what a terrible thing to be called therefore I’m not going to fit in with modern day scholarship. Well, you know what? You’re in pretty good company there because Jesus sure didn’t fit in with the religious crowd of His day either, because He was a literalist, even in the Garden of Eden He was a literalist when He made reference to early Genesis and everybody else wasn’t. This particular scholar goes so far as to say there couldn’t be streets of gold because of the absence of oysters large enough to produce such pearls, and the absence of sufficient gold to pave such a city. We don’t have enough gold in the world to make streets of gold. We do not have oysters large enough to make the pearls on each gate.
Well, let me ask you a question. When was that ever a problem with an ex nihilo God? God is not dependent upon the limitations of this world for His future creation; He just speaks and things come into existence. I’m reminded of what the Bible says, “Is there anything too hard for the LORD?” And I think a lot of times God gives us these measurements to test us. Do you really believe Me or not? Not that your salvation depends on it, you trust in Christ and Christ alone for salvation. But do you believe I can make a world like this? No God, I don’t think it could happen, and God says okay, I’ll give you eternity to rethink that as you keep going in and out of that city. May God help us to take things at His Word!
I like this quote from David Cooper, “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.” [The World’s Greatest Library Graphically Illustrated (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1970), 11.]
In other words, unless there’s something very obvious in the text telling you not to take it literally, take it literally. You say well do you have kind of a dumbed-down version of Cooper’s statement. Yes, I’m glad you asked. “When the plain sense makes good sense seek no other sense lest you end up with” what? “nonsense!” [Laughter]
I like this statement here, “He (or she) who spiritualizes…” do you know what I mean by spiritualizing? Spiritualizing is the practice that you find all the way back to Justin in the fourth century and even preceding him that the language of the test really doesn’t mean what it says; what you have to do is you have to incorporate the higher spiritual meaning, which means if I follow that practice I can never lose my job. That’s what it means, because I’m the only one that knows what the higher spiritual meaning is. And now you’re all dependent on me to get the higher spiritual meaning.
People do this all the time. They see the four rivers in Eden–the Pishon, the Gihon, the Euphrates, and the Tigris–and they say, well you don’t really… You poor, you POOR hyper-literal, naïve fundamentalist, you don’t really believe those are four rivers do you? No, no, those just represent the four parts of the human soul. And if you graduated from the right school and were under the right teaching you would understand its entire meaning. The reality is the four rivers in Eden mean what? There are four rivers in Eden! And if you don’t follow this practice they call you the worst name they can possibly call you, the “F” word, Fundamentalist. That’s the absolute worst thing to be called in this culture is a fundamentalist.
I haven’t announced this but I’m flying this afternoon, don’t worry I’ll be back in time for Wednesday night Bible study, and I’m praying to the Lord that the pilot of the plane is a fundamentalist [Laughter] who takes the gap gauge literally and the compass literally, and the tires are with the right amount, I hope he takes numbers literally. I hope he doesn’t say well north really means … whatever.
So the reality of the situation is he or she whose spiritualizes tells spiritual lies. There’s a lot of sermons going on in churches where you listen to it and you say great sermon, wrong passage. It gives you sort of a liver quiver of the day and it makes you feel good but you’re looking at the passage and you’re saying that’s not what the passage says, because you’re under a teacher that is practicing not a literal approach from Genesis to Revelation. You’re under someone that is spiritualizing.
Now I’m having so much fun up here I’m going to miss my plane so we’re going to stop at this point, because if I just keep going then I’m going to have to ask them to spiritualize and let me on the plane. [Laughter] But the reality of the situation as we celebrated this morning communion and basically that’s all about the fact that Jesus did everything in our place. Salvation, if you learn nothing else this morning, is a free gift. The Bible says we can drink without cost; God is not asking people to crawl on a bed of nails to receive salvation. He’s simply asking people through volition, through their own free will as the Spirit puts them under conviction to trust in what Jesus has done. That’s why heaven is so big. That’s why this city is so big. That’s why the tax gatherers and the prostitutes were entering and yet the Pharisees through their works and traditions were not entering.
And so our exhortation to folks here at Sugar Land Bible Church is Jesus has done it all; if you’re here today and you’re unclear about your salvation, if you’re listening online and you’re unclear about your salvation, now’s the time to clear it up, to leave here with absolute assuredly that if you were to die today that if you were to die today your soul would go directly into the presence of the Lord because you have believed or trusted in what Jesus has done. It’s not something you have to raise a hand to do, join a church to do, walk an aisle to do. It’s not something you have to fill out a card to do.
It’s a matter of privacy between you and the Lord where the Spirit convicts you and you respond to it by receiving by way of faith what Jesus has done. It’s just that simple, because the Bible says “without” what? “faith” it is what? “impossible to please God.” How as Abraham saved all the way back in Genesis 15? Abram believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness.” [Romans 4:3]
Well wait a minute, didn’t he have to go under the Law of Moses? NO, the Law of Moses wouldn’t exist for another six centuries. Well wait a minute, didn’t he have to get circumcised? No, circumcision doesn’t come about until a few chapters later. So, Abram, who became Abraham is our role model for how we are saved. That’s why we are called Abraham’s sons, sons of Abraham. So, God reveals Himself to you through the gospel, you understand it, you understand what Jesus did and you say well I’m going to trust in it. You’re not believing that, you’re believing in a person. You’re trusting in Him and Him alone for salvation. And that’s something you can do right now without any show of hands, just in the privacy of your own heart trust in Jesus and be saved throughout all eternity. If it’s something you need more explanation I won’t be here afterwards to talk to you about it but I’m sure there’s people sitting next to you that would love to talk to you.
Shall we pray. Father, we’re grateful for Your truth, Your Word, and help us to have the boldness and the courage to just take you at face value and we have a marvelous future in store for us. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said…. Amen!