Analyzing the Viewpoints: Millennial Kingdom versus Eternal State (2)

Is Revelation 21:9-22:5 presenting the Millennial Kingdom or the Eternal State? The following two articles relate to this question, presenting two views for you to carefully consider in coming to a conclusion on the interpretation of Revelation 21:9-22:5. The purpose of presenting opposing views is not to create controversy nor to generate division, and it is not merely for you to assess who formulates a better argument. The purpose is to help you to understand the viewpoints, and to encourage you to study it more deeply yourself in your own time. Our two writers have read and considered the opposing view and continue to happily respect each other.

– Matthew Cain

Revelation 21 opens with a description of the “new heavens and new earth,” sometimes called the Eternal State. Writers on both sides of the debate accept this. Some consider, however, that, after a brief reference to the Eternal State (21:1-5a), John moves backwards to the Millennium (21:9-22:5). We will refer to chapters 21:1-5a as “Section One” and 21:9-22:5 as “Section Two.”

Before dealing with these points, it should be noted that not all of chapters 21 and 22 deal with future events. Chapter 21:5b-8 is a parenthesis in which God speaks directly to the reader. Chapter 22:6-21 is the book’s conclusion and contains a series of promises, warnings, and prayers which are relevant to the whole prophecy, not just to the Millennium or the Eternal State. The language of this section is not relevant to the issue under discussion (see 22:14-15).

The three main arguments which support a Millennial interpretation of Section Two are:

Kings coming to the New Jerusalem is referred to in 21:24. If the Eternal State is a period when all rule is in the hands of God the Father, there will be no need for kings, whereas there are references to kings and rulers in the Millennium who rule under Christ.

A tree whose leaves are used for the “healing” of the nations is described in 22:2 (KJV). In the Eternal State, there is no need of healing since healing presupposes the presence of sin and/or its legacy. In the Millennium, sickness and sin are still present, though in a reduced form. This tree produces fruit “every month,” and in the Eternal State, times and seasons are, it is said, abolished.

There are a number of reasons to doubt this interpretation. First, Revelation is a chronological book. While John may at times organize material thematically (e.g., ch 17-18), he does so within a dispensational framework. He begins with the Church Age, moves to “things which must be hereafter” (4:1, KJV), and describes the Tribulation (ch 4-18), the return of Christ (ch 19), and then the Millennium (ch 20). An interpretation which places Section One and Two in the Eternal State fits the flow of the book.

Second, a comparison of Sections One and Two indicates John is describing the same event. Both describe a city called Jerusalem, coming “out of heaven” and “from God”[1] and both liken it to a “bride.”

Third, an interpretation which places Section Two in the Eternal State means the Book of Revelation ends in the Day of God (2Peter 3:12). If the purpose of the book is to show that God will ultimately be glorified and vindicated, this is best achieved by interpreting Section Two as showing God as “all in all” (1Cor 15:28, KJV).

To interpret the city in Section Two as a Millennial Jerusalem creates difficulties. Here are a few: (1) The Jerusalem in Section Two is located in a realm where the curse has been banished (22:3) and all are saved (21:27). In the Millennium, however, man remains sinful (20:7-9), and despite the increased fruitfulness of the earth, the curse, a consequence of the Fall, remains. (2) The city of Section Two has no need of natural light (21:23), whereas in the Millennium the sun and moon continue to shine and earth is governed by the seasons of the year (Isa 30:26; Zech 14:8). (3) Section Two describes a city without a temple. In the Millennium, there is a temple located to the north of Jerusalem (Ezek 40:2, 48:8, 10; Isa 2:2), a priesthood, and a system of sacrifice. (4) The vast dimensions of the city[2] (21:16) exceed the enlarged boundaries of Israel in the Millennium (Ezek 48).

To avoid these problems, those who take a Millennial view of Section Two argue as follows. First, the measurements of the city are figurative. But we must be consistent. If we propose to defend the literal “one thousand years” in chapter 20:2-7, we must not change when we come to chapter 21. Second, some propose the existence of two Jerusalems in the Millennium – one on earth (the earthly Jerusalem of OT prophecy), and one in orbit over the earth (the “great city” of chapters 21 and 22, KJV). Chapter 21, however, describes the city “coming down” or “descending” (21:2, 10, KJV) out of heaven. The city is said to “lie foursquare,” indicating it is settled on the new earth and is not in orbit. If this Jerusalem lies on the new earth, the contradictions are avoided.

In rebuttal of the arguments mentioned at the start of the article, I would observe as follows. First, while “God is “all in all” (1Cor 15:28, KJV), this does not indicate authority is not delegated. In Christ’s Millennial reign, He delegates power. In any event, “kings” may simply indicate honored members of the kingdom. The city, as a bride, is the Church. The names of the gates may mean Israel lives alongside the Church (21:12, 14), or they live outside the city, in the new earth with the antediluvian and patriarchal saints, the Tribulation martyrs, and the faithful of the Millennium. Second, the reference to “healing” in 22:2 is at a time when there is “no curse” (22:3, KJV).  In my view, the absence of the curse rules out the Millennial interpretation. “Healing” may suggest an enhancement of wellbeing as opposed to a cure for illness. The Eternal State may not be the static realm some imagine. Third, the objection that there is no time in eternity is speculative. Is eternity the absence of time or limitless time? How can created beings worship, serve and learn outside of time? This is an unconvincing objection.

[1] This heaven is not to be confused with the “new heavens.”  These are created whereas the heaven from which the city descends is the residence of God. This heaven is never destroyed or dismantled and is the place where God dwells.

[2] Twelve thousand stadia is approximately 1500 miles, the distance between London and Athens, between New York and Houston, between Delhi and Rangoon, between Adelaide and Darwin.