One of the great mysteries in Scripture concerns the identity of Jerusalem. Today many Christians wait to see a new temple built in old Jerusalem and yearn for the day when this same old Jerusalem shall be made a praise upon the earth. But, the prophecies concerning Jerusalem do not deal with old Jerusalem and Ezekiel’s vision concerning a new temple do not relate to some new physical temple that will one day be built in old Jerusalem. No, these prophecies speak about the overcomers of God, the sons of God and the Bride of Christ, whom John saw as New Jerusalem descending from heaven.
In the Old Testament it is primarily the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel who spoke about this new Jerusalem. We need to interpret the prophets through the filter of the Revelation given to John and the other New Testament apostles and prophets. For example, what does John mean when he says, “Then the angel[a] showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life[b] with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2, ESV)
First, take note that in this passage John says the very same thing which Ezekiel prophesied when talking about the new temple to come. Look particularly at verse 12 below to see this. Ezekiel said,
Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. 8 And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea;[b] when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh.[c] 9 And wherever the river goes,[d] every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea[e] may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. 10 Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.[f] 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. (Ezekiel 47:6b-12)
Notice that trees grow on each side of the river. The river itself is the water of life, Jesus Christ. The water, representing Christ’s truth and life, flows to the salty sea. This sea is mankind. Mankind dwells in the salty, murky, dark waters under the firmament of heaven. Remember the second day of creation, “And God said, “Let there be an expanse[a] in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made[b] the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven.[c] And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” (Genesis 1:6-8) The waters “above the expanse” are the waters of life. A time is coming when this water above the expanse will flow into the water below the expanse. This will make the salty water into “fresh” water, that is, it will bring life and healing to the “fish of the Great Sea.” The fish are men. Remember that Jesus calls us to be fishers of men. But, what are the trees? Isaiah prophesied,
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;[a]
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;[b]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.[c]
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations. (Isaiah 61:1-4)
The trees we see in Ezekiel and Revelation are these “oaks of righteousness.” These are the firstfruits of God, the first human beings besides Jesus ever to be glorified with immortal bodies. To them will be granted a “beautiful headdress” in place of the ashes of dust they now bear. Today they mourn under the burden of their faint spirit, their unfruitfulness, and the sin of their flesh. Tomorrow they will be clothed with a garment of praise. Tomorrow, at their glorification, they will produce new, good fruit each month. Their leaves, their produce, will bring healing to the nations. To them it shall be granted to build up the ancient ruins, to raise up the former devastations, and to repair the ruined cities. These trees are the ones whom the Bible also calls “New Jerusalem,” as prophesied by Isaiah.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,[a]
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,[b]
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,[c]
and your land Married;[d]
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:1-5)
This is the same image which John saw and wrote of.
9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:9-14)
So, when John says, “Then the angel[a] showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life[b] with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations,” (Revelation 22:1-2) this speaks of God’s Spirit, God’s water of life, moving without hindrance through the very essence (“middle of the street of the city”) of each overcomer who comprises New Jerusalem! And it is this unhindered flow of the water of life, the very fullness of Jesus Christ himself, which produces in us ongoing fruit which will bring healing to the entire earth! Let us then each aspire to become these oaks of righteousness that will heal a broken and hurting world.