What Are the New Heavens and New Earth Like?

Colin S. Smith
header for What Are the New Heavens and New Earth Like?

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”
Revelation 21:1

We can easily understand why God would make a new earth, but why would God make a new heaven?

Before there was ever rebellion on earth, there was rebellion in heaven. Satan wanted to ascend to the throne of God, and so he was cast out. The possibility of evil existed both on the earth and in heaven.

But now John sees that the enemy will be consigned to destruction forever and that God will shape a new heaven, free not only from the presence of evil but even from its possibility.

Then John says that he saw a “new earth.” “New” means that it will be wonderfully different. “Earth” means that it will be strangely familiar. The destiny of the Christian believer is not a dreamlike existence in an imaginary world. God will reshape, re-create, replenish, and renew this planet (Romans 8:21).

The joys of the new heaven and earth are beyond anything that we can imagine, but God uses two pictures to give us some inkling of what lies ahead for His people. They are the city and the garden.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”
Revelation 21:2

At this point in the story, history as we know it has been brought to a close. London, Chicago, Jerusalem, Cairo, Peking, Moscow, Baghdad, Bangkok, Johannesburg, and Calcutta are all gone! The earth has been laid bare in the fervent heat of God’s judgment. (See Hebrews 1:10–12 and 2 Peter 3:10.)

Now John sees a new city coming down from heaven. He immediately recognizes its skyline. Jerusalem! It was unmistakably familiar to him.

Jerusalem is full of significance in the Bible story. This was the place where God came down to meet with His people when the cloud of His presence filled the temple.

Taking the Measurements

The new city was vast. It was laid out like a square and measured 12,000 stadia (Revelation 21:16). That’s 1,400 miles, about the distance from New York to Houston. The area covered by the city would be about three-quarters the size of America or five times the size of Great Britain. It was absolutely overwhelming.

John had already seen that God’s people are more than anyone could number. Now God was communicating that He has a vast city for this vast crowd. He has a place for every one of His people.

The measurements of the city are given in three dimensions. It is “as wide and high as it is long” (v. 16) In other words, it is a perfect cube.

Seeing a Holy Place

John would have seen the significance of this immediately. The Most Holy Place in the temple, where God met with His people was also a perfect cube, thirty feet long, thirty feet wide, and thirty feet high (1 Kings 6:20).

The old city had a holy place, where the presence of God came down. The new city is a holy place, where God’s presence will remain. In the old Jerusalem, one room was filled with His glory. In the New Jerusalem, the whole city will be filled with His glory, and a vast crowd of men and women, more than anyone could number, will live in God’s presence.

Paradise Restored: The Garden

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life . . . . On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.”
Revelation 22:1­­–2

A New Garden

Up to this point in the vision, John has viewed the New Jerusalem from the outside. But now, he is invited to come inside. As he enters, the picture changes and, no doubt to his absolute astonishment, John sees a garden!

The Bible story began in a garden and now, at the end of the Bible story, this paradise is restored. But notice that there is no “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” in God’s new garden city. Evil can no longer be known there. This garden is free not only from the presence of evil, but even from its possibility.

The Tree of Life

In the new garden, God’s people have access to the Tree of Life, which bears twelve different crops of fruit, ready to pick every month. The variety of fruit speaks of the riches of life, continually replenished in the presence of God.

The pleasures of God’s new garden city will surpass anything Adam knew in the Garden of Eden. You will taste fruits Adam never tasted and enjoy pleasures Adam never knew.

Serving and Reigning

His servants will serve him . . . . They will reign for ever and ever.”
Revelation 22:3, 5

In the first garden, Adam served God by ruling or reigning over the animal kingdom. He stood in authority over them. But when the serpent came, he did not maintain his rule.

But now God’s people are restored to a position of serving and reigning. Thankfully, this does not mean that we will all have jobs in government administration!

When God speaks about us reigning, He is telling us that life will be ordered and brought under your control. You will no longer be subject to the tyranny of time, piles of paperwork, and all that goes with it. You will no longer be swept away by unpredictable tides of emotion, deceptions of the mind, or impulses of the will. You will no longer endure dysfunctional relationships, and you will no longer be subject to danger or death.

Your life will be ordered, your work fulfilled, and your relationships whole. Life itself will be brought under your control, and you will be free to fulfill all the purposes of God.

Enjoying the Presence of God

The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face.”
Revelation 22:3­–4

God’s presence in this city is its greatest blessing. In the Garden of Eden, God came down as a visitor and made Himself known. He did not impose Himself on the man and the woman, but gave them the opportunity of choosing a relationship of faith and obedience with Him.

But now God has gathered a vast community of people who have come to love Him freely. So God is no longer a visitor. His throne comes down into the city so that God’s people may live in His presence and enjoy Him forever. “Now the dwelling of God is with men” (21:3).

The Great Invitation

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’”
Revelation 22:17

John saw twelve gates into God’s garden city. There were three on each side, indicating that people would come from the north, south, east, and west into it (21:12–13).

John saw an angel at each gate (21:12). At the beginning of the Bible story, the cherubim and a flaming sword guarded the entrance to the Tree of Life. But there is no flaming sword now. Jesus Christ has come, and the sword of God’s judgment has been broken on Him. Now the angels stand by the gates, not to forbid entrance but to provide a welcome for all who will come.

The Lord Jesus Christ has opened up the way to everlasting life for you. He offers all this to you, but you must come! Enter, by repentance and faith, into what Jesus has opened up for you. Come and receive the life that He offers to you. Come to Him, because His people will enter into this marvelous city.

The Spirit and the bride invite you to come (22:17). The bride is the church. If you have not yet come to faith in Jesus Christ, it is more than likely that there is a Christian somewhere who has been praying and longing that you will do so. It is my privilege to speak for the bride and invite you to come.

The Holy Spirit also says, “Come.” God wants you to be part of this, and He invites you. Do not stand at a distance from the priceless gift He offers to you. Come!

For Further Reading:

10 Keys for Unlocking the Bible

by Colin S. Smith

If you’re just beginning to explore the rewards of Bible study, here is the perfect introduction! Colin S. Smith has drawn from all four...

book cover for 10 Keys for Unlocking the Bible