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The meaning of Revelation 21 and 22 has been hidden from Christians for centuries. Many have understood these chapters in a very natural way and have considered them a description of a material city. When we were young, we heard gospel songs about the golden city and the golden street.
The first verse of the book of Revelation says that the revelation of Jesus Christ is made known by signs. If we would understand this book, we must know the meaning of all the signs. For example, the seven golden lampstands in chapter one and the universal bright woman in chapter twelve are signs. Furthermore, in this book Christ is called the Lion and the Lamb, terms which also are signs. In like manner, the entire city of New Jerusalem is a sign.
Throughout the centuries, what Christians have spoken about the church has come out of their mistaken concept of what the church is. When some talk about going to church, they refer to a bungalow with a high tower and a bell. In their concept, a certain kind of building is the church. Even some diagrams of the dispensations use the figure of a building with a steeple to represent the church. Although such a thing may be a chapel, it certainly is not the church.
The Brethren, who were raised up in the last century, have an improved understanding of the church. To them, the church is not a building; it is the gathering of the called ones. When believers meet together, their gathering is the church. Although this understanding is correct, it is rather shallow. The church is much deeper than this. Suppose a thousand regenerated Christians meet together; yet they quarrel, fight, criticize one another, and live in the flesh. Is that the church? No, it is neither the church nor a gathering of the saints; in the eyes of God it is a gathering of the flesh. In one meeting of a certain church board, one member of the board even threw a Bible at another. Such a gathering certainly is not a meeting of the church.
In the last book of the Bible the church is signified by a bright, pure, shining golden lampstand. The Lord uses a lampstand to symbolize the church because the church is deep and mysterious and cannot adequately be described in human language. Thus, the Lord was forced to use a sign, a symbol, to represent it. When you see that the church is a golden lampstand, you will know what the church is. However, if you are asked to define the church, you still may not be able to do it. The church is mysterious, divine, and pure, and human words cannot define it adequately. For this reason, nowhere in the New Testament do we find a full definition of the church. Ephesians 1:22 and 23 say that the church is Christ's Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. But what does the word “fullness” mean, and what does it mean to “fill all in all”? It is difficult to understand the term church, much less the terms “Body,” “fullness,” and “all in all.” Therefore, in the book of Revelation, the ultimate conclusion of the Bible, many signs are used to convey spiritual realities.
When we say that the church is a golden lampstand, we do not mean that the church is actually a stand with seven lamps. It is a mistake to understand the matter this way. It is the same with the description of Christ as the Lamb. Certainly our Lord is not literally a lamb with four legs and a tail. How wrong to understand biblical symbols in this way! The Lamb is a sign indicating something concerning the Lord. Therefore, when the book of Revelation pictures the church as the golden lampstand, it means that the church is divine and pure; the church also has a light that shines in the darkness. This is the significance and the true meaning of the church being a golden lampstand.
The city of New Jerusalem is also a sign, an all inclusive sign. In order to understand this sign, our mind must be completely renewed and enlightened. We must not understand the New Jerusalem according to our natural concept. Some argue that New Jerusalem is actually a square, material city. If we have this kind of natural concept, we shall not be able to understand the New Jerusalem as a sign. The New Jerusalem is a sign signifying God's eternal building as His dwelling place. To be sure, God's eternal building is not a physical place; rather it is something living. Instead of being a material city, it is an entity constituted with His divine life. This is so mysterious, deep, and profound that human language cannot adequately describe it. Therefore, in His wisdom, God uses a picture, a sign, to reveal it to us. With this principle in mind, let us now consider the various details and aspects of the city of New Jerusalem.