In Revelation 21:2, John talks about seeing the New Jerusalem coming out of heaven adorned as Bride. While the text talks of the New Jerusalem as city, it seems contradictory that the Bride of Christ ( believers as we all know) can be portrayed as a physical city. Revelation 21:14 talks about the foundations being the names of the apostles , which I believe corresponds to Ephesians 2:20. So my question: Is the New Jerusalem a physical city? Surely it cannot be heaven because the Bible says "it comes down from heaven" Unless you want to argue that it is a second heaven?? Is John speaking allegorically of believers?
There is a view that maintains the New Jerusalem is the New Heavens and New Earth (NHNE), is the temple, and is the Garden of Eden (or the ultimate development of the original Garden of Eden).
The Revelation Scholar Gregory Beale holds this view. Below I will present some of his basic arguments.
The New Jerusalem is the New Heavens and New Earth
In Revelation 21:1, John sees the NHNE:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. (Revelation 21:1 NET)
However, the following verses do not describe what is called the NHNE, but the New Jerusalem. In 21:1, he sees the NHNE, and then apparently there is no further mention of it. Then in 21:2, he sees the New Jerusalem. Starting from 21:3, he hears a description of the New Jerusalem.
Seeing and then hearing are used in Revelation when two symbols have the same referent. For example:
Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered; thus he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw standing in the middle of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the middle of the elders, a Lamb that appeared to have been killed. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (Revelation 5:5,6 NET)
First, John hears that there is a Lion, but then he sees a Lamb. Both are symbols of Christ. Likewise, seeing the NHNE and then hearing a description of the New Jerusalem could indicate that John is saying the NHNE is the city.
Also, notice who is excluded from the NHNE:
But to the cowards, unbelievers, detestable persons, murderers, the sexually immoral, and those who practice magic spells, idol worshipers, and all those who lie, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. That is the second death.”
(Revelation 21:8 NET)
Now notice who is excluded from the New Jerusalem:
but nothing ritually unclean will ever enter into it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or practices falsehood, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27 NET)
It appears that 21:8 and 21:27 are referring to basically the same group of people. This would seem to indicate the borders of the NHNE and the New Jerusalem and identical.
Besides, if "only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life" would not be allowed to enter the city, why would they be allowed to be somewhere else in the NHNE? Being excluded from the city means not having the right to live in God's new creation, the NHNE.
The New Jerusalem is the Temple
Notice the dimensions of the New Jerusalem:
Now the city is laid out as a square, its length and width the same. He measured the city with the measuring rod at fourteen hundred miles (its length and width and height are equal). (Revelation 21:16 NET)
It is a cube, like the holy of holies in the temple. This indicates that the whole city, in fact, the entire NHNE is the inner sanctuary of God!
The New Jerusalem is Eden
The New Jerusalem is described as a garden, with obvious references to Eden:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life – water as clear as crystal – pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. And there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him, (Revelation 22:1-3 NET)
Thus there are good reasons to believe the New Jerusalem is the NHNE, the inner sanctuary of God, and the realization of the Garden of Eden all at once.
"NEW JERUSALEM" - this phrase appears twice in the Scriptures in the book of Revelation 3:12 and 21:2. John says in 21:2
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (NIV)
The clue is in the verse, for it says that "New Jerusalem is prepared as a bride". What is her identity? Paul likened the congregation on earth as "a chaste virgin". 2 Cor. 11:2 (KJV) says
For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
In Ephesians 5:23-25 Paul likens the Christian congregation to a wife, with Christ as husband and head. Eph. 5:23-25 (NIV) says
23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
So the New Jerusalem is the Christian Congregation and the husband is The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who shed his blood for mankind (Rev. 5:6, 12; 21:14; 7:14).
The New Jerusalem is not earthly but heavenly for it comes out of heaven from God (Rev. 21:10). Further Paul in Phil. 3:20 (NIV) says
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,
From the Scriptures we see that members of the bride are told that their citizenship is in heaven.
Further proof that the New Jerusalem is a heavenly city is found in Rev. 21:12-21. According to the Good News Bible, Rev. 21:16 says that the city is square, being 2400Km long and wide and high. From these figures certainly no human city could be so large or reach that far into space.
Let's assume that the New Jerusalem is indeed a cube with the measurements stated in Revelation. It would be about the size of the Moon. In fact, it could be completely contained within the Moon except for the eight corners, which would stick out about 116 miles above the surface of the Moon.
Having an object this size sitting on the surface of the Earth would seem highly unlikely for many reasons, so let's assume that it's in a geostationary orbit, which means that it always remains in the same location above the Earth at the equator. If it's due south of Jerusalem, it would be almost directly above Kisumu, Kenya, near the northeast shore of Lake Victoria at 22,236 miles above the surface of the Earth, which would be just under a tenth of the distance to the Moon (the Moon is about 239,000 miles away from the Earth).
From Jerusalem, this cubic satellite would always be visible due south at about 54 degrees above the horizon, and its apparent size would be about 7 full moons by 7 full moons. To get a better idea, cut out a square piece of paper that's about 2-1/2 inches on a side and hold it up at arm's length.
At least a portion of the New Jerusalem would be visible to almost half the Earth outside of about 500 miles from the poles.
In case you were wondering . . .
It is impossible to read Rev 21 and not come to the conclusion that the author is describing a literal city descending from the sky. He describes New Jerusalem as a holy city, one of heavenly origin, that comes down to earth and becomes the abode of the righteous.
Revelation 21:2 (NLT)
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
Revelation 21:24 (KJV)
And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it.
The author even describes the shape of the city as cube with walls that are 1400 miles high!
Revelation 21:16 (NLT)
When he measured it, he found it was a square, as wide as it was long. In fact, its length and width and height were each 1,400 miles.
He also says that the unrighteousness will not be able to enter the city.
Revelation 21:27 (NLT)
Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty--but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.
All of this points to New Jerusalem as a literal city, a literal kingdom. In my opinion, the author is describing the long awaited Kingdom of God that Jesus and others thought would appear in their lifetimes.
The idea of aerial cities is also found in ancient Hindu texts. The Vimana's were believed to be flying cities / temples used in warfare.