Dennis Johnson, writing about Revelation 21 in his commentary Triumph of the Lamb, says, “The whole terrifying conflict has been about the divine Husband’s jealous love for his bride, a love so jealous that he will fight all comers in order to have her all to himself, a love so sacrificial that he lays down his life to protect from every threat and enemy.” The frightening images of war, locusts, dragons, and every other threat leading up to today’s passage are not the main point of Revelation. John’s visions, rather, lead up to this moment, when the whole purpose of God’s judgments is achieved in the renewal of the universe and the people of God.
The Old Testament prophets looked forward to the day when Jerusalem would be restored and the city and its people made holy (Isa. 65:18; Ezek. 40–48; Zech. 14:10). Today’s passage shows us that this new Jerusalem is fulfilled not in the literal restoration of that earthly city—though perhaps that is part of it as well. Instead, the new Jerusalem comes from heaven, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 20:2). This, of course, refers to the bride of Christ, the people of God, the assembly of believers from every generation (19:6–10; Eph. 5:22–33). The Son of God came to earth to purchase this bride with His blood, to redeem her from the defilement of sin and take her as His wife forever. Over the course of the book of Revelation—pointing to the entire course of history—Jesus did not allow any ultimate harm to befall His church but preserved her for this moment, the most wonderful wedding that will ever occur.
The bride comes down from heaven, signifying that her purity and very existence are due to God alone. But she does not come down to a creation spoiled by sin. Instead, a new heaven and earth come with her, a world free of all mourning, pain, illness, and death (Rev. 21:1–4). This, of course, fulfills the great vision in Isaiah 65–66 of the new creation. Humanity ruined the first creation, but God did not abandon all people to their sin. Instead, He redeems His chosen and will grant us a perfect new creation (see also Rom. 8).
Best of all, the dwelling place of God will be with man (v. 3). The great hope of the Lord’s people is that God will live among them and commune with them face-to-face. That day is surely coming, and we can hardly wait for it to appear.