The Sequence Of Events In Rev. 20-22
By Jack Kelley
In this study, I’d like to take another look at Revelation 20-22 specifically for the purpose of clarifying the sequence of events that are contained therein. This won’t be a verse by verse study, but will focus on what I believe to be the way John wanted us to understand what he was telling us.
Let me begin by stating once again my belief that the book of Revelation is laid out chronologically for the most part. But there are places where John followed a particular scene to its conclusion and then back tracked to pick up the story where he left off. A good example of this concerns the account of the two witnesses. Their entire 1260 day ministry was compressed into 11 verses between the 6th and 7th trumpet judgments (Rev. 11:3-13) and yet it will actually span most of the Great Tribulation.
Many of us were taught that Rev. 20 gives us a brief look at the Millennium before describing eternity in Rev. 21 and the first part of Rev. 22. From the questions I get, it appears that lots of people still believe that’s what these three chapters are saying. But that can’t be correct and here’s why.
In Rev. 20:1-6, John clearly had the millennium in view. First, he described the binding and imprisonment of Satan for 1,000 years. (This is where we get the name “Millennium”. It comes from the Latin phrase “mille annum” which means 1,000 years.) Then he briefly mentioned the stage being set for the judgments the Lord will oversee at the Second Coming. These judgments are explained in Matt. 24:45-25:46 and will determine who among the tribulation survivors will enter the Millennial Kingdom on Earth, and who will not. At that time, thrones will be set up on which the disciples will sit in judgment of Israel (Matt. 19:28).
The martyrs from the Great Tribulation will be resurrected and according to Daniel 12:1-2 Old Testament believers will return to life then as well.
Then, in Rev. 20:7-10 John abruptly fast forwarded to the end of the millennium to describe Satan’s ultimate disposition. He told us that Satan will be released after 1,000 years to deceive the nations into attacking Jerusalem one final time. Gathering up an enormous army from people born during the time of his imprisonment, he will lead them in a march against God’s people and the city He loves. But before they can attack, God will send fire from heaven to devour them all. Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented day and night forever.
To complete the chapter, John stayed at the end of the millennium for one more event. In Rev. 20:11-15 he explained the Great White throne judgment of the unsaved from all ages and gave us a better description of the second death that he had briefly mentioned in Rev. 20:6. He said the second death consists of being thrown into the lake of fire.
Rev. 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”
This verse has often been interpreted as referring to the destruction of heaven and earth, to be replaced by something entirely new at the outset of eternity. But like many of the verses in the book of Revelation this one is a direct quote from the Old Testament, specifically Isaiah 65:17, where the context is Israel’s Kingdom Age, aka the millennium.
Therefore, I think this is the first of several clues that tell us John was actually talking about the renewal or restoration of all things, referred to by Jesus in Matt. 19:28, by Peter in Acts 3:21, and by Paul in Romans 8:19-21. This is when the earth will be returned to the condition it was in after God created it, but before sin corrupted it. They placed the timing of the renewal at the 2nd Coming.
When combined, these clues will lead us to the conclusion that in Rev. 21:1 John was taking us back to the beginning of the Millennium to pick up where he left off in Rev. 20:6. So the quote from Isaiah 65:17 is our first clue. Now let’s take a look at the others.
The second clue is the arrival of the New Jerusalem, which John saw coming down out of heaven, prepared as a bride (Rev. 21:2). This doesn’t mean the New Jerusalem is the bride, as some of us were taught. It means like it is with a bride on her wedding day, no effort will be spared to make the city as beautiful and radiant as possible for its descent out of heaven.
After a description that shows it to be far too big to actually be located on earth, John indicates that the only people who can enter the city are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27); in other words, the Church. The New Jerusalem contains the mansions Jesus spoke of in His Father’s house. It’s what He’s spent the last 2,000 years preparing for us, and it’s where we’ll go after the rapture (John 14:2-3) to be hidden away during the time of God’s Wrath (Isaiah 26:20-21, 1 Thes. 1:10, Rev. 3:10).
Matt. 24:29 tells us that immediately after the end of the Great Tribulation, the sun will go dark and the moon will not give its light. I don’t believe this is temporary because there’s no mention of either ever being restored. In fact Rev. 21:23 tells us the New Jerusalem will not need the sun or the moon because the glory of God illuminates it and the Lamb is its lamp. Furthermore, Rev. 21:24 says the New Jerusalem will be the source of light for the nations of earth. Therefore, the new Jerusalem has to be present during the Millennium to replace the sun and moon.
The third clue is in Rev. 21:27. It explains that while the glory and honor of the nations will be brought into the New Jerusalem, nothing impure can ever enter it. Nor can anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful. This is the biggest clue of all that John was talking about the millennium and not eternity. In eternity everything and everyone will be pure, but in the millennium there will still be sinful people and impure things on earth. None of them will be permitted to enter the home of the church.
Rev. 22:1-2 introduces the final chapter of the book in the same way as Rev. 21:1 introduced the previous chapter, with a quote from the Old Testament about life in the Millennium, only this time the focus is on Israel.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
These two verses are a summary of Ezekiel 47:1-12, which describes the area from the temple to the (no longer) Dead Sea on earth during the Millennium. There is no temple in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:22) so God’s throne can’t be there, because His throne is always in the Holy of Holies. Ezekiel 43:6-7 confirms that the temple in Israel on earth will be the location of God’s throne during the Millennium.
Also, the people on earth in their natural state during the millennium are the only ones who will need healing. There will be no disease in the New Jerusalem because there will be no people in their natural state there, only the redeemed and immortal Church. Neither will there be any need for healing in eternity, when everyone will be immortal. Both John and Ezekiel were describing the new holy city on earth during the millennium, with a temple and a river flowing from it, lined with fruit trees.
Again, John made mention of sinners. Outside (the city) are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Rev. 22:15). There will be no such people in eternity.
Location Of The New Jerusalem
From these clues we can see that the focus of Rev. 21 and the first part of Rev. 22 is the millennium. We can also see that the New Jerusalem has to be present during the Millennium. Now let’s review why it can’t actually be located on earth, but will be in the vicinity of earth.
Once again there are several clues to support this conclusion.
The first is John’s statement that He saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven. Notice he didn’t say anything about it coming to rest on earth, just that it was coming down out of heaven.
Next comes John’s description of its size. 12,000 stadia are equal to about 1380 miles, so the city is 1380 miles in length width and height. That means if it came to rest in Europe, it would cover everything from Scandinavia to Gibraltar and from the Coast of Spain to Italy’s heel. It would hide the entire Middle East if it was located there, or all of the Eastern US from Maine to Florida and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River.
But the biggest problem wouldn’t be its footprint, although that alone would require nearly 2 million square miles. The biggest problem would be its height. At 1380 miles tall it would be about 4000 times taller than the next tallest structure on earth. It would also extend well beyond the upper reaches of earth’s atmosphere, which is only about 300 miles high.
To get a better feeling of its relative size, the New Jerusalem will be about 1/6th the size of earth or about 2/3rds the size of the moon. And remember, earth is a ball spinning on its axis at the rate of about 1,000 miles per hour. Imagine what would happen to this perfectly balanced spinning ball if you suddenly attached something the size of the New Jerusalem to one side of it.
Some see the city as a cube and others as a pyramid, but either way it simply wouldn’t fit on earth.
Finally, there’s the fact that the New Jerusalem will provide light for earth during the Millennium as I explained above. If it was located anywhere on earth, half the planet would be in perpetual light while the other half would experience perpetual darkness. The only way all of earth could enjoy alternating day and night periods would be if its source of light was located off planet like it is now. This would allow light to shine on each part of the earth each day as it spins on its axis, giving all of earth periods of light and darkness to make up each day. The only exception to this will be the new holy city on earth. Rev. 22:5 tells us the Lord Himself will give light to the city, and there won’t be any night there.
In all this we have to remember that, for the most part, people dwelling on Earth during the Millennium will be the sons and daughters of people who dwell on the earth today. They won’t have undergone any transformation, such as the one we will experience in the rapture. Therefore life on earth in the millennium will have to be similar in most respects to life on earth today for them to survive.
The Bible supports this idea, speaking of growing cycles (Amos 9:13-15), life spans (Isaiah 65:20) and multiple generations of people dwelling together (Zechariah 8:4-5) during the millennium.
While you can see many similarities between the holy city in Israel and the New Jerusalem, a careful reading shows several important differences as well. The most obvious to most will be the Temple with the throne of God, located in Israel. (Remember, there is no temple in the New Jerusalem.) But the difference in their size is also dramatic, especially when considered in three dimensions. The footprint of the holy city only requires a small portion of Israel, but the New Jerusalem would cover the entire middle east. Also, the holy city will be the focal point of Israel’s long promised Kingdom Age, while the New Jerusalem will be the exclusive home of the redeemed Church.
I think you can see that this interpretation of Rev. 20-22 makes much more sense than the one many of us learned as kids. And in this day and age, when these prophecies are coming ever closer to reality, it’s nice to get a clear look at what lies ahead for us. You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah.