“The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal.” Revelation 21:16
Thus far in our study of the final stage of heaven we have learned that the capital city of the new earth is the New Jerusalem from which King Jesus and His bride, the church (21:2, 9-10; cf. 19:7, 22:17; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:27), will rule the nation of Israel and the entire new earth (21:1-14).
Next John will discover the dimensions of this remarkable City. “And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall.” (Revelation 21:15). The angel who has led the apostle John on this guided tour of the New Jerusalem now “had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall.” The fact that the angel’s measuring rod is “gold” suggests the dignity of the task of measuring the city’s gates and walls. It also reflects the immense value of the city. 1
John first describes the shape and then the size of the city. “The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal.” (Revelation 21:16). Its base was “laid out as a square.” The city’s exact dimensions are measured by the angel and is reported to be “twelve thousand furlongs.” The Greek word for “furlong” is stadia and is “a measure of distance of about 192 meters.” 2 Twelve thousand furlongs would be approximately 2,304,000 meters or about 1,432 miles. According to this angel, the New Jerusalem is a colossal cube that is 1,432 miles long, 1432 miles wide, and 1,432 miles high. It contains 432 quintillion cubic feet of space. How big is that?
To help us envision this, think of a map of the United States. The footprint of the city would be about the same as drawing a square from Miami, Florida up to Boston, Massachusetts then westward to Minneapolis, Minnesota then south to Corpus Christi, Texas and then back to Miami. And that is just the ground level. This colossal city rises 1,432 miles into outer space.
Since this city is cubicle, we can assume it has more than one level. 3 Given the dimensions of a 1,432-mile cube, if the city has different levels, and if each story were a generous twelve feet high, the city could have over 630,000 stories. If they were on different levels, billions of people could occupy the New Jerusalem. 4 There is no question that this colossal city would be able to house all believers in Jesus from the church age.
The cube shape of the New Jerusalem reminds us of the cube shape of the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, the dwelling place of God on earth in the Old Testament. It was a perfect cube measuring fifteen feet on every side. Likewise, the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple was a thirty-foot cube. 5 “The New Jerusalem, also a perfect cube, will be like a huge Holy of Holies, a cosmic Temple, where God dwells eternally. The parallels between the New Jerusalem and the Garden of Eden (a river, the tree of life, and God’s presence) and the Holy of Holies have led some to call the New Jerusalem the ’Edenic Temple-City.’” 6
Swindoll states that critics think these dimensions cannot be taken literally. They argue that a cubicle city of this size would send the earth wobbling in its orbit and perhaps careening into the sun. 7 But the apostle John himself understands “these measurements to be human and literal, not spiritual and symbolic. He makes a point of noting that the human measurements were the same as angelic measurements (21:17).” 8
“Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.” (Revelation 21:17). The city wall was “one hundred and forty-four cubits” thick which is about 216 feet or 72 yards.Even though an angel of God was doing the measuring, he was using human units of measurement. 9 If God did not want us to take these dimensions literally as some argue, 10 then why does the Bible give us the dimensions and then say it is according to the measurement of man which the angel was using? This emphasis on man’s measurement seems to be an appeal to believe that the New Jerusalem is truly this huge!!! 11
If God did not want us to believe the New Jerusalem is 1,432 miles wide and deep and high, how would we expect Him to say this besides what the Bible plainly says? Isn’t it possible for the God of the universe to make such a city? Isn’t it possible for people in glorified bodies like the risen and exalted Lord Jesus to inhabit such a city? 12 Absolutely!!!
Skeptics argue that a city of this size would alter the earth’s orbit causing it to spin out of orbit and careen into the sun. But this assumes that the new earth will be the same size as our current earth. The Bible does not tell us the size of the new earth. Isn’t it likely that God will create a new earth whose size is perfectly proportionate to the New Jerusalem? 13
Someone may argue, “But this city rises above the earth’s oxygen level.” Can’t God put oxygen 1,432 miles high in the new heaven and new earth if He wants? Or can’t God make it, so we don’t have to breathe oxygen in our resurrected glorified bodies? Such things are not impossible for the Lord. 14
One of the reasons why there is so much skepticism about taking what the Bible says about heaven literally is because of the influence of christoplatonism. Alcorn explains the origin of this term. “Plato, the Greek philosopher, believed that material things, including the human body and the earth, are evil, while immaterial things such as the soul and Heaven are good. This view is called Platonism. The Christian church, highly influenced by Platonism through the teachings of Philo (ca. 20 BD – AD 50) and Origen (AD 185-254), among others, came to embrace the ‘spiritual’ view that human spirits are better off without bodies and that Heaven is a disembodied state. They rejected the notion of Heaven as a physical realm and spiritualized or entirely neglected the biblical teaching of resurrected people inhabiting a resurrected Earth.
“Christoplatonism has had a devastating effect on our ability to understand what Scripture says about Heaven, particularly about the eternal Heaven, the New Earth… If we believe, even subconsciously, that bodies and the earth and material things are unspiritual, even evil, then we will inevitably reject or spiritualize any biblical revelation about our bodily resurrection or physical characteristics of the New Earth. That’s exactly what has happened in most Christian churches, and it’s a large reason for our failure to come to terms with a biblical doctrine of Heaven. Christoplatonism has also closed our minds to the possibility that the present Heaven may actually be a physical realm. If we look at Scripture, however, we’ll see considerable evidence that the present Heaven has physical properties.” 15
Another reason for refusing to take God’s description of heaven literally is scholasticism. Alcorn explains: “The writings of twelfth-century theologians such as Peer Abelard and Peter Lombard and thirteenth-century theologian Thomas Aquinas led to the Philosophical movement known as scholasticism, which came to dominate medieval thought and ultimately took hostage the doctrine of Heaven.
“The scholastic writers viewed Heaven in a more impersonal, cold, and scientific manner than their predecessors. They departed from the Heaven of Scripture that contains both the unfamiliar transcendent presence of God, surrounded by the cherubim, and familiar earthly objects and personages, including people wearing clothes and having conversations. They embraced Heaven entirely intangible, immaterial, and hence – they thought – more spiritual.” 16
“They ignored almost entirely – or allegorized into oblivion – the New Earth as the eternal dwelling place of resurrected humans living with the resurrected Jesus in a physical realm of natural wonders, physical structures, and cultural distinctives.
“The scholastic view gradually replaced the old, more literal understanding of Heaven as garden and city, a place of earthly beauty, dwelling places, food, and fellowship. The loss was incalculable. The church to this day has never recovered from the unearthly – and anti-earthly – theology of Heaven constructed by well-meaning but misguided scholastic theologians. These men interpreted biblical revelation not in a straightforward manner, but in light of the intellectually seductive notions of Platonism, Stoicism, and Gnosticism.” 17
Refusing to take God’s descriptions of the new heaven and new earth literally because of an anti-supernatural bias toward the Bible which scholastic theology promotes, is unfortunate and all too common today.
When faced with the decision to interpret the Bible literally or figuratively, how do we know which is correct? One way is to interpret based on what the Bible says elsewhere about the same subject. For example, the Bible tells us that Christians will possess a glorious resurrection body like that of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20-21). Was Jesus’ resurrection body visible and tangible? Yes, the risen Christ could be seen and touched (John 20:14-29). Could Jesus eat food in His resurrection body? Yes, He ate in the presence of His disciples after His resurrection (Luke 24:36-43). What this means is we will be seen and touched in our glorified bodies on the new earth. We will be able to eat food on the new earth (Revelation 2:7, 17).
The tree of life was a real tree in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8). If it was not real, why would God not allow Adam and Eve to eat from it after they sinned (Genesis 3:22-24)? Obviously, it was a literal tree in the Garden of Eden, and it will be a literal tree in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 2:7; 22:2, 14).
God has given us many details about the New Jerusalem on the new earth. To interpret them symbolically or figuratively undermines our trust in God and His Word. If we assume the dimensions of the New Jerusalem cannot be literal, then what is to keep us from believing the city is not real either? If it doesn’t really have its stated dimensions, then it is a short step to believing it does not have dimensions at all. 18
When we interpret figuratively what God intended to be literal, we are doing what Revelation warns us not to do. “18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, may God add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, may God take away his part from the tree of life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19). We take away from God’s Word by denying its plain meaning. We add to it by adding new meanings not supported by the biblical text. 19
God wants His people to forever enjoy a resurrected life on a literal new earth in a literal New Jerusalem. We know this to be true because God plainly says it. Paying attention to the context and bringing other Scriptures into account, we need to draw God’s truth from the text, not read our preconceived ideas into it. 20
Many Christians are being deceived by Satan’s lie which says God’s Word cannot be trusted. This is what the Devil told Eve in the Garden of Eden when he said, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4) if you eat what God said not to eat. Satan planted a seed of doubt in Eve’s mind that basically said what God’s Word clearly says cannot be trusted. This is what Satan wants to do concerning our understanding of the new heaven and new earth. If he can get us to doubt God’s clear descriptions of our future home on the new earth, he can lessen our motivation to prepare for that wonderful place.
But the Bible is filled with promise after fulfilled promise about the trustworthiness of God’s Word. Jesus Himself spoke of this: “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18). Jesus guarantees that the smallest Hebrew letter (“jot”) or smallest Hebrew stroke (“tittle”) cannot change and will not pass away until they are all fulfilled. Jesus Christ is “the truth” (John 14:6) and He cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), therefore we can trust what He says.
Taking God at His Word requires faith. “Faith means believing that God keeps His promises.” 21 The author of Hebrews said, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). Having faith doesn’t mean we have to see something to be convinced it is true.
For example, I can know I have an incredible home in heaven not because I have been there and seen it, but because I believe Jesus’ promise. “2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3). Christ has been preparing this place for me for nearly two thousand years since He returned to heaven after His death and resurrection. If I didn’t believe Christ’s Word, I would have no confidence in heaven or anything else He has promised in His Word. If Jesus does not return in the next few decades, I know I am going to die. But I am not afraid of dying because I believe Jesus’ promise to usher me into His presence in His Father’s heavenly home. My faith is in a real God Who had made real promises about heaven. 22
Prayer: Exalted Lord Jesus, Your Word is true because You say it is. We can trust what You clearly say in Your Word because You are true and cannot lie. Thank You so much for Your detailed description of the New Jerusalem with its incredible dimensions. Such a colossal city will have more than enough space for all Your redeemed people from the church age. Use us Lord God to help populate the New Jerusalem by preaching Your gospel of grace to those who are perishing without You. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
1 Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pp. 241-242.
2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 940.
3. David Jeremiah, Answers to Your Questions about Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015 Kindle Edition), pg. 100.
4. Adapted from Randy Alcorn, Heaven: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything the Bible Says About Our Eternal Home (Tyndale House Publishers, 2004 Kindle Edition), pg. 353.
5. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 455.
6. Ibid., pg. 455 cites James M. Hamilton Jr., Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, Preaching the Word, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), pg. 393.
7. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 388.
8. Ibid., pg. 389.
9. Constable, pg. 249.
10. Alcorn, pg. 684 cites John Gilmore, Probing Heaven (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), pg. 114, who says that taking these verses literally would dishonor God.
11. Ibid., pg. 684.
12. Adapted from Ibid.
13. Swindoll, pg. 389.
14. Alcorn, pg. 684.
15. Ibid., pp. 90-91.
16. Ibid., pp. 675-676 cites Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), pp. 80-81.
17. Alcorn, pg. 676.
18. Ibid., pg. 685.
19. Ibid., pp. 686-687.
20. Ibid., pg. 687.
21. Tony Evans, God Can Not Be Trusted (and Five Other Lies of Satan), LifeChange Books, (The Crown Publishing Group, 2005 Kindle Edition), location 362.
22. Ibid., location 362 to 368.