I confess to interpreting Holy Scripture literally. A literal interpretation is my first assumption. When the scriptural intention is be be allegorical, it is usually pretty obvious and stated as such. Some things in scripture are symbolic yet real. Like baptism. It is an ordinance full of symbolism, but you really do get wet.
Joseph Smith had a question and answer session10 with the Lord about the biblical Book of Revelations and he found out that much of what John describes in his vision was real and not only symbolism. The beasts1 in chapter 4 were real. The four and twenty elders2 are real. The angels mentioned are real angels3. The throne of God4 is real.
John describes the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven in chapter 21. It is real. Of particular interest is the shape and dimensions of the city:
Revelation 21 2 And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. … 10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, … 15 And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. 16 And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.
So to take the Apostle John at his word, the Holy City (Heaven) is very large cube in shape. Amazing. A furlong (Roman stade) is about one eighth of a mile or 625 feet. 12,000 furlongs is 1420 miles. So, the city is 1420 miles high? I don’t think that’s the meaning. If you measure a two dimensional city you get 1420 divided by the 4 edges of the square – is 355 miles on each side. However for a cube, there are 12 edges to measure, so that yields 1000 furlongs or 118 miles on each edge, producing a cubical city 118 miles high. A possible meaning for the “walls” of the city is that they are floors, each of 144 cubits or 210 feet high, making the city almost 3000 floors high. For comparison, at a two dimensional level the greater Los Angeles area (4850 sq. mi.) would fit into a little over a third of the first floor (13,924 sq. miles) of the New Jerusalem. The total square miles in such a structure is 41,298,584 which is quite a bit when you consider the total arable land on the earth is currently only 12 million square miles and that the total land area, including mountains, deserts and glaciers is 56 million square miles. Considering the estimate of 120 billion people who have ever lived on the earth, if one third inherit a place in the New Jerusalem then each one of 40 billion resurrected people have, on the average, 27,878 square feet (x 210′ high = 5,854,380 cu ft) – still plenty of room.
As mentioned in an earlier post, the New Jerusalem is the “heaven” prepared5 for those of this earth. Initially populated by the people of the city of Enoch 5022 years ago, it is not of this earth but was created6 by God and exists on a higher level of “celestial” existence. It is eternal and will always exist. It is the dwelling place of Christ and those of a “celestial” resurrection during the 1000 year millennial reign.
It makes perfect sense that a Holy City, which comes down out of space, would be self-contained and in cubical shape. When touching the earth, it is large enough to extend well into space into what we would consider a low earth orbit. To a person of 200 years ago, cell phones, automobiles, and airplanes would seem impossible. Yet, after a few weeks, they would get used to it and accept it. It’s the same with us now, we don’t comprehend the physics or technology behind Heaven right now. Yet, with faith I am willing to accept the scriptures at face value. Is anything too hard for the Lord?7
The idea of a New Jerusalem descending to the earth is also mentioned in the Book of Ether:
Ether 13 3 And that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord. 4 Behold, Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land. 5 And he spake also concerning the house of Israel, and the Jerusalem from whence Lehi should come—after it should be destroyed it should be built up again, a holy city unto the Lord; wherefore, it could not be a new Jerusalem for it had been in a time of old; but it should be built up again, and become a holy city of the Lord; and it should be built unto the house of Israel— … 9 And there shall be a new heaven and a new earth; and they shall be like unto the old save the old have passed away, and all things have become new. 10 And then cometh the New Jerusalem; and blessed are they who dwell therein, for it is they whose garments are white through the blood of the Lamb; and they are they who are numbered among the remnant of the seed of Joseph, who were of the house of Israel. 11 And then also cometh the Jerusalem of old; and the inhabitants thereof, blessed are they, for they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb; and they are they who were scattered and gathered in from the four quarters of the earth, and from the north countries, and are partakers of the fulfilling of the covenant which God made with their father, Abraham. 12 And when these things come, bringeth to pass the scripture which saith, there are they who were first, who shall be last; and there are they who were last, who shall be first.
The “place” of the New Jerusalem has been given in scripture. It is in Jackson County, Missouri8. The City of Zion shall be built there. It is where the New Jerusalem will “land” and the City of Zion will be joined with it.
Today, in the Holy Temples, the Latter-day Saints symbolically enter Heaven, the New Jerusalem, as a part of the sacred ceremonies and covenants made in the Temple. Those worthy are promised the privilege of entering the real thing, pending the Lords personal approval9. All the Lord’s people are eventually to be gathered to the “central” place – and because of the New Jerusalem, there is plenty of “space” for all, including all those billions died and resurrected. The purpose of Christ’s Gospel is to bring us back into the presence of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, in Heaven. It is amazing to me that the scriptures give the broad brush strokes of how, physically, that is to happen.
6 And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. 9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever …
4 And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
1 AND there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; … etc
2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. 13 And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
18 Let not your hearts be troubled; for in my Father’s house are many mansions, and I have prepared a place for you; and where my Father and I am, there ye shall be also.
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 unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
62 And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem. 63 And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other; 64 And there shall be mine abode, and it shall be Zion, which shall come forth out of all the creations which I have made; and for the space of a thousand years the earth shall rest. 65 And it came to pass that Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, in the last days, to dwell on the earth in righteousness for the space of a thousand years;
10 And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age, and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? 13 And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? 14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.
26 Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying, 27 Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?
1 Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints. 2 Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion. 3 And thus saith the Lord your God, if you will receive wisdom here is wisdom. Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.
41 O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.