The New Jerusalem and the Bride of Christ

Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (May 2013)

Many people are not very clear on the relationship between the bride of Christ and the New Jerusalem. Some of them entertain the view that the city itself is the bride, and not its inhabitants, while others state that the city will only be the abode of the glorified Israel – not of the bridal congregation of Christ. John says the following on the significance and illustrious appearance of this wonderful city:

“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. ... Then one of the seven angels ... came to me and talked with me, saying, Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. ... Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. ... But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light” (Rev. 21:2, 9-14, 22-23).

 

 

The following pertinent question may be asked to those who hold the idea that the city itself, without any specific reference to its inhabitants, is the bride of the Lamb: “How can a city and its buildings be the bride of Christ?” From the entire context of the description it is evident that the New Jerusalem is the personification of its inhabitants – it is the home of Christ’s bride. The exalted status of the city should be understood in the light of the presence of its Builder and the glorified status of its dwellers – not primarily in terms of the physical structures of the city itself. The beauty of the city is only a reflection of the holiness of its inhabitants, as the city is adorned like a bride for her husband – it is not the bride herself!

It is an established biblical practice to refer to a certain group of people in terms of their dwelling-place. That is the reason why a city is often the personification of its people. The Lord Jesus addressed agnostic Jews as follows: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!” (Matt. 23:37). Although He addressed the city His words were specifically directed to Jerusalem’s leaders and occupants.

The New Jerusalem is clearly the final destination of all believers of all times, i.e. born again believers from Israel and the church. The 12 gates of the city have the names of the 12 tribes of Israel written on them, thereby indicating that it is, among others, the dwelling-place of the true Israel of God (Rev. 21:12). Furthermore, the wall of the city also has 12 foundations which carry the names of the 12 apostles of the Lamb (Rev. 21:14). This is a clear indication that the city is also the final destination of New Testament believers, since the 12 apostles were commissioned to preach the gospel to all nations.

The Lord Jesus made the following promise to a Gentile congregation in Asia Minor (the present Turkey): “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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 I will write on him My new name” (Rev. 3:12). As the members of the bridal congregation we are called upon to put on the Lord Jesus, and received the promise that The New Jerusalem will be our eternal abode – it is also our city.

The Lamb was sacrificed for sinners of all times

An important aspect of the New Jerusalem’s inhabitants is that they do not only comprise of believers from all nations but also of all times. Old Testament believers waited on the Messiah and their sins were forgiven by virtue of the preliminary, shadowy sacrifices of the old covenant, pending the coming and atoning death of the Messiah. Christ validated the preceding typological sacrifices, as He fulfilled the promises contained in the repetitive sacrificial acts. Animal sacrifices of themselves could not purify from sin, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). These sacrifices pointed ahead to their fulfilment in the crucifixion of the spotless Lamb of God.

When the Son of God paid the ransom for the sins of the world, all believers from the Old Testament also became Messianic believers in the full sense of the word and consequently members of the redeemed people of the Lamb. In Old Testament times Israel was metaphorically described as the wife of God as they were attached to Him by faith (Isa. 54:5; Hos. 2:16). Their relationship with the Messiah will be the fulfilment of this intimate bond with God, and for that reason they will also be described as the bride or wife of the Messiah.

In the New Jerusalem, there will be a uniting of Old and New Testament believers into one body. Old Testament believers had embraced the promise of the Messiah but did not receive it in their lifetime: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, they were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth” (Heb. 11:13). Together with thousands of other believers Abraham, the founding father of Israel, “waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).

Because of their faith in God, Old Testament believers were, after their death, kept in Paradise in the lower parts of the earth until the coming of the Messiah to vindicate their salvation. Between Paradise and the unsaved dead who were (and are still) in the Sheol part of the underworld there was a great gulf (Luke 16:26). After Christ’s death on the cross He “descended into the lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4:9). Here He showed Himself to believers in Paradise as the fulfilment of the promise on which they waited, and in Sheol (Gr. Hades) as the salvation of God that was rejected by unbelievers.

Only at that moment, Old Testament believers could receive their heavenly inheritance and be taken from Paradise in the lower parts of the earth to heaven. Since that time Paradise is in heaven. In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 Paul says that he was caught up to the third heaven, which he describes as “Paradise”. At that time, Paradise was no longer in the underworld but somewhere in the heavenlies to where Jesus also ascended 40 days after His resurrection from the dead (Acts 1:9-11). Here, in His Father’s house with its many mansions, He is preparing a place for all those who belong to Him (John 14:2-3).

There will be a simultaneous glorification of the bride of Christ from Israel and the Gentile world (Old as well as New Testament), and for that reason it is said of Old Testament believers: “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Heb. 11:39-40). We will be glorified together with them in the New Jerusalem.

There is a simple and logical definition of the bride of the Lamb – she represents all true believers of all times. The New Testament church, which only includes born again people, is part of the bride of Christ. Paul says to one of the congregations: “I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). He gave Himself over to die on the cross in order to save and sanctify us, “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” (Eph. 5:25-27).

The glory of the bride

The bride of Jesus Christ, with whom He will be united at the marriage feast of the Lamb, is composed of born again people who are filled with the Holy Spirit. They seriously regard the command to put on the Lord Jesus and cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord (Rom. 13:14; 2 Cor. 7:1). The fruit of the Spirit in their lives affords them a spotless wedding garment: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:7-8).

 

 

A life of holiness obliges us to build with gold, silver and precious stones on the foundation of repentance (1 Cor. 3:11-14), as only these are the fruit of the Spirit. Works of this nature will not only ensure that we have a proper wedding garment, but also give us confidence to appear before the judgement seat of Christ where rewards of grace will be given to those who have led fruitful lives of service to the Lord.

In the Wedding Song of the Messiah the marriage between Christ and His bride is described as follows: “All Your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of strings makes You glad. ... At Your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir. ... All glorious is the princess within her chamber, her gown is interwoven with gold. In embroidered garments she is led to the King. ... They are led with joy and gladness; they enter the palace of the King” (Ps. 45: 8-9, 13-15; NIV).

The golden thread and precious stones which are used to embroider her garment emerge from “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8). These acts are the gold, silver and precious stones with which she has built on the foundation of her repentance, and they symbolise a life consecrated to the Messiah. Those who did not, through the filling of the Holy Spirit, strive after higher levels of dedication, simply don’t have a trimmed wedding garment and will appear before the Lord empty-handed, saved as through fire (1 Cor. 3:15). They will be in the kingdom of the Lord but forfeit the upward call to be numbered among the bride.

A motivation for complete surrender

We should be motivated by the promise of our heavenly inheritance to lay up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt. 6:19-20). The righteous acts of the saints on earth are directly related to the glory and rewards of grace which they will receive in the New Jerusalem. Are you wholeheartedly committed to the command towards sanctification? Without a commitment towards holiness the Lord cannot use you: “... every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ... Abide in Me, and I in you” (John 15:2-4).

We need to confess and forsake all carnal works and surrender ourselves completely to the Lord: “Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from these, he will be a vessel for honour, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21).

If it is the highest purpose of your life to serve and love the Lord with all your heart, you will one day be astonished at what Christ has prepared for you in the house of His Father. The beauty of the New Jerusalem cannot even be imagined or adequately expressed in words by mortal man. Paul said: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).