Will Those Who Dislike Cities Find Themselves at Home in the New Jerusalem?

Scripture describes Heaven as both a country (Luke 19:12; Hebrews 11:14-16) and a city (Hebrews 12:22; 13:14; Revelation 21:2). Fifteen times in Revelation 21 and 22 the place God and His people will live together is called a city. The repetition of the word and the detailed description of the architecture, walls, streets, and other features of the city suggest that the term city isn’t merely a figure of speech but a literal geographical location. After all, where do we expect physically resurrected people to live if not in a physical environment?

The city at the center of the future Heaven is called the New Jerusalem. Everyone knows what a city is—a place with buildings, streets, and residences occupied by people and subject to a common government. Cities have inhabitants, visitors, bustling activity, cultural events, and gatherings involving music, the arts, education, religion, entertainment, and athletics. If the capital city of the New Earth doesn’t have these defining characteristics of a city, it would seem misleading for Scripture to repeatedly call it a city.

A City with All the Best, None of the Worst

Over the years, people have told me they can’t get excited about the New Jerusalem because they don’t like cities. But this city will be different—it will have all the advantages we associate with earthly cities but none of the disadvantages. The city will be filled with natural wonders, magnificent architecture, thriving culture—but it will have no crime, pollution, sirens, traffic fatalities, garbage, or homelessness. It will truly be Heaven on Earth.

If you think you hate cities, you’ll quickly change your mind when you see this one. Imagine moving through the city to enjoy the arts, music, and sports without pickpockets, porn shops, drugs, or prostitution. Imagine sitting down to eat and raising glasses to toast the King, who will be glorified in every pleasure we enjoy.

Theologian and novelist Frederick Buechner writes: “Everything is gone that ever made Jerusalem, like all cities, torn apart, dangerous, heartbreaking, seamy. You walk the streets in peace now. Small children play unattended in the parks. No stranger goes by whom you can’t imagine a fast friend. The city has become what those who loved it always dreamed and what in their dreams she always was.” [1]

In this video, an excerpt from Eternity 101, I talk about how we sometimes transfer our negative feelings onto our concept of Heaven:

Different Kinds of Beauty on the New Earth

Still, some people read the Bible’s description of Heaven’s capital city and think they will be uncomfortable in that vast architecture. Tolkien seems to address this in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, where he portrays differing concepts of Elvish beauty and Dwarvish beauty. Elves, people of the woods and waters, celebrate and protect the natural beauty of Middle Earth. Dwarves, in contrast, are miners and builders who dig deep for precious stones and construct vast buildings. The Elves are uncomfortable with Dwarvish architecture, and the Dwarves feel uncomfortable deep in the forest.

Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf forge a great friendship. They come to appreciate the previously undiscovered beauties of each other’s world. Legolas beholds the underground wonders of Moria, a gigantic and awesome architectural accomplishment, testifying to the ingenuity and beauty of what Dwarves can carve out of stone. Similarly, Gimli comes to appreciate the spectacular natural beauties of Lothlorien and of Galadriel, the Elven queen.

As I read Revelation 21–22, I’m struck with how the Elven paradise reflects the Edenic elements of the New Jerusalem—rivers, trees, fruits, and mountains—while the Dwarves’ view of beauty reflects the vast detailed architecture and precious stones of Heaven’s capital. Which kind of beauty is better? We needn’t choose between them. The New Earth will be filled with both. Whatever God’s people create is also God’s creation, for it is He who shapes and gifts and empowers us to create.

It’s likely that our tastes will differ enough that some of us will prefer to gather in the main streets and auditoriums for the great cultural events, while others will want to withdraw to feed ducks on a lake or to leave the city with their companions to pursue adventures in some undeveloped place. Wherever we go and whatever we do, we’ll never leave the presence of the King. For although He dwells especially in the New Jerusalem, He will yet be fully present in the far reaches of the New Universe—in which every subatomic particle will shout His glory.

For more answers to questions about eternity, see Randy’s book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Heaven as well as his comprehensive book Heaven and devotional 50 Days of Heaven.  

[1] Frederick Buechner, quoted in A Little Bit of Heaven (Tulsa, Okla.: Honor Books, 1995), 118.

Photo by ANIMESH MANDAL on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries