The length, width and height of the New Jerusalem are all the same, suggesting a perfect cube (Rev. 21:16). But there is another shape whose length, width and height are the same, and that is the pyramid. There is nothing in the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation that requires either a cube or a pyramid? So how should we decide? Should we envision the New Jerusalem as a cube or as a pyramid?
Most interpreters envision the New Jerusalem as a cube and, in my view this is probably correct. A cube has twelve edges, but a pyramid has only eight. The description of the New Jerusalem makes abundant use of the number twelve and never uses the number eight. The New Jerusalem has twelve gates, twelve foundations, walls 144 cubits high, and dimensions measuring 12,000 stadia (Rev. 21:12-21). This wide-spread use of twelve coheres with the major use of twelve elsewhere in Revelation and the New Testament. It is the number of God’s people and the city becomes the bride of Christ when it is filled with saved humanity. While the text does not specify the shape, a cube would be consistent with the symbolism of Revelation.
What is theologically significant about the cube is that the only other cube in the Bible is the Most Holy Place of the Old Testament temple (1 Kings 6:20). Its sides and height were completely equal. The New Jerusalem, then, is modeled on the Most Holy Place. What is forbidden to all but the High Priest in Old Testament times is now open to all the redeemed. Relationship with Christ elevates all to the roles of kings and priests. All have face to face engagement with God (Rev. 22:4) in the heavenly Most Holy Place, the New Jerusalem.
An upcoming Sabbath School lesson states: “With the destruction of Babylon, the prayer of God’s people, in the scene of the fifth seal, is ultimately answered.” How is this so? Revelation 19:1-2 makes a strong allusion to Revelation 6:10. In that verse, the souls under the altar cry out to God: “How long will it be before you “judge” and “avenge” our blood. . .” (Rev. 6:10, NRSV)? What the Greek literally says is “How long will you be. . . not judging (Greek: krineis) and not avenging (Greek: ekdikeis)?” The verb “is” or “will be” is understood in the original and can be appropriately inserted into a translation. It is like a predicate nominative in English. It is assumed rather than stated. The overall message of Revelation 6:9-10 is this: From the perspective of the souls under the altar, there is no evidence that God is judging or avenging their martyrdom.
It is striking, therefore, that Revelation 19 uses the same two judgment words (“judging” and “avenging”) in the past tense to describe the fall of Babylon. The great multitude in heaven celebrate the fact that God has “judged (Greek: ekrinen) the great prostitute. . . and has avenged (Greek: exedikêsan) on her the blood of his servants” (Rev. 19:2, ESV). There is a clear relationship in the text between the prayer of the fifth seal and the fall of Babylon. In fact, there are no less than eight major words in common between the fifth seal and Revelation 19:1-2. This means that Revelation 19 is to be understood as an answer to the prayers of the saints in the fifth seal. At the end of earth’s history, God will be seen to be righting the wrongs that occurred in the course of that history (Rev. 15:3-4). If there is no judgment and no Second Coming, there will be no justice in this world. Thus, judgment in the Bible is more good news than bad news.
Revelation 20:11 states that the old earth and sky “fled away” from the presence of the one seated on the great white throne (ESV, RSV). Good synonyms for “fled away” (Greek: ephugen) are “vanish” and “disappear.” Since “no place was found for them” after they vanished, it could imply that when God makes “all things new” (Rev. 21:5, NKJV) He will build a brand, new earth rather than “recycle” the materials of the old earth into the new one. On the other hand, “new” in Greek (kainos) means something new in quality rather than in origin or time (see 2 Corinthians 5:17, but notice also Mark 2:21, where new in time is also implied).
Which of the two options makes the most sense? Perhaps the original creation story can help us decide. In Genesis 1 the first verse seems to describe the creation of the whole universe (Gen. 1:1). The second verse focuses on the condition of the earth after the original creation (Gen. 1:2). Verse three commences the creation of this world and describes it as more of a recycling project than something built from nothing (Gen. 1:2-31). With the exception of the light on the first day (Gen. 1:3-5), God’s creative work with the planet itself was largely shaping the environment out of pre-existing matter (Gen. 1: 6, 7, 9, 14).
In conclusion, the total evidence related to the new earth falls short of certainty on this matter. But we do know two things. God is not indebted to pre-existing matter, yet He seems rather fond of recycling.
Revelation chapters nineteen through twenty-two begin with final events just before and during the Second Coming of Jesus (Rev. 19) and then give readers a glimpse of the future beyond that event; through the millennium (Rev. 20) and into eternity (Rev. 21 and 22). These four chapters of the book of Revelation offer the clearest and most detailed account in the Bible of events just before, during and after the Second Coming. While there are hints of a millennium elsewhere in the Bible (1 Cor. 15:20-22; Isa. 26:19-22), this is the only place where such a time period is clearly laid out. The account of the thousand years comes between the Second Coming of Jesus and his third and permanent return to this earth.
These chapters of the book of Revelation introduce the following themes and issues:
1. Will God Transform the Old Earth or Make a New One? The meaning of the term “new” earth.
2. Relation of Babylon’s Fall to the Fifth Seal.
3. Three Views of the Millennium.
4. Will Eternity End Up Boring? What Will God’s People Be Doing With All That Time?
5. The Backgrounds That Explain the New Jerusalem.
6. The Shape of the New Jerusalem, Pyramid or Cube?
In addition to the above, I plan to explore God’s purpose for both the thousand years of Revelation 20 and for biblical prophecy. I will conclude with some thoughts on how to respond to the teachings of Revelation.