The apostle John’s revelation of what is going to take place in a time period referred to as the last days concludes with a vision of an eternal world that is yet to come into existence. John said, “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” (Revelation 21:1). The Greek word translated passed away, parerchomai (par-er’-khom-ahee) has to do with a change in physical state. John was not saying that the first earth would cease to exist, but that the planet we live on would no longer have the same characteristics or properties that it once had. For example, when water changes to ice, it is no longer a liquid, but a solid mass. John noted that the new earth would not have any seas.
The primary difference between the first earth and the new earth that John’s vision revealed was that God would be living among his people. John said, “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). John also saw that there was no temple in the new Jerusalem because “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Revelation 21:22-23). John also stated, “the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there” (Revelation 21:25).
One of the most intriguing aspects of John’s description of the new Jerusalem was that it was “coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). The imagery of a city being the bride of Christ makes it seem as if Christ’s church has been transformed into a physical structure. The Greek word translated church, ekklesia (ek-klay-see’-ah) refers to a religious congregation, the group of people that inhabit a building. Ekklesia “designated the new society of which Jesus was the founder, being as it was a society knit together by the closest spiritual bonds and altogether independent of space” (G1577). The Greek word translated bride, numphe (noom-fay’) means “to veil as a bride” (G3565) indicating that the wedding ceremony was in progress when the new Jerusalem descended from heaven.
The Apostle Paul used the analogy of a family to describe the relationship between Christ and the church. Paul instructed husbands to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Paul went on to say, “For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Ephesians 5:29-30). And concluded, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).
The joining together of Christ and his church appears to be a physical union that takes place in heaven, but manifests itself on Earth. The Greek word translated joined, proskollao (pros-kol-lah’-o) means to cleave or be glued together. “Inherent within this word are two aspects with the second aspect being stressed. In order to cleave, one must first make a clean break; hence, cleave as in to cut. Then, once cleanly separated a joining is easy” (G4347). What this suggests is that Christ’s church will be taken out of the world through the rapture in order to make a clean break from the world’s sinful practices. At the end the millennium, the church will return to earth and be permanently joined with Jesus in the form of the new Jerusalem, a physical structure that the people of his church will inhabit.
An angel took John to see “the bride, the lamb’s wife.” John said, “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:9-10). John’s description of the new Jerusalem is similar to what many people think heaven will be like. He said, “the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it was transparent glass” (Revelation 21:21). John went on to say, “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and of either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2).
It could be that the new Jerusalem is where believers live in heaven until the city is brought down to Earth and is integrated into Jesus’ millennial kingdom. Jesus told his disciples before his death, “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. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus’ prayer for the church was “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us…that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:21-23). The Greek word translated in, en denotes a fixed position and suggests that Jesus was referring to a permanent relationship rather than a place or location where everyone would be together.
The reason Paul indicated the joining together of Jesus and his church was a great mystery (Ephesians 5:32) could be because it is incomprehensible from a physical standpoint. It can only be understood from a spiritual perspective. What we know about the spiritual realm is that it has physical properties but it is invisible. We cannot see God or his angels and yet, they exist and are active in the physical world in which we live. When the church is raptured, it will become invisible to the physical world, but it may continue to be involved in the activities of the physical world in some way. At the conclusion of the millennium, the church will likely have a new role and will return to Earth as the new Jerusalem where all whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be free to come and go (Revelation 21:27). In its eternal state, the church might become like Adam and Eve who originally had the privilege of communicating with God directly on a regular basis (Genesis 3:8). Once Satan’s presence is eliminated from Earth, God’s relationship with mankind will continue uninterrupted for eternity.