Tuesday, December 14, 2021

75. The Revelation: New Jerusalem - Appearance and Exterior Design (Revelation 21:9-21)



As the vision of the New Jerusalem unfolds, history has ended, and time is no more. John and his readers are transported to the eternal state. Having described the lake of fire (verse 8; 20:14–15), the vision takes the exiled apostle to the eternal resting place of the redeemed. Because it is the capital city of heaven and the link between the new heaven and the new earth, the New Jerusalem is central to the vision and is described in far more detail than the rest of the eternal state.

1. Its General Appearance

"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper." (Rev. 21:9–11)

The angel came to call John’s attention to the city. “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” The New Jerusalem is described as a bride because it draws its character from its occupants. Those occupants consist of the bride of the Lamb, a title originally given to the church (19:7) but now enlarged to encompass all the redeemed of all ages, who live there forever. The New Jerusalem is likened to a bride because the redeemed are forever united to God and the Lamb. It is further defined as the “wife of the Lamb” because the marriage has taken place (19:7).

John’s incredible vision began when the angel carried him away in the Spirit. When he received the visions that comprise the book of Revelation, the aged apostle was transported from the island of Patmos (1:9) in an amazing spiritual journey to see what unaided human eyes could never see. John’s visions were not dreams, but spiritual realities, like those Paul saw when he was also caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2–4).

The first stop was “a great and high mountain.” From that spot, the angel showed John “the holy city, Jerusalem.” The apostle repeats his observation from verse 2 that the New Jerusalem came “down out of heaven from God.” It is interesting that what is described here is not the creation of heaven. It is merely the descent of what already existed from eternity past, now situated in the center of the new heaven and the new earth.

The most distinguishing characteristic of the capital city of eternity is that it is the throne of the eternal, almighty One, and therefore had the glory of God in it. Radiating from the New Jerusalem will be the brilliance of the full manifestation of God’s glory, so much so that “the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (verse 23).

Describing the effect of God’s glory radiating from the New Jerusalem, John notes that her brilliance was “like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper.” The Greek word translated “brilliance” refers to something from which light radiates. To John, the heavenly city appeared like a giant lightbulb, with the brilliant light of God’s glory streaming out of it. But that light did not shine through the thin glass of a lightbulb, but through what looked to John like a very costly stone of crystal-clear jasper. The city appeared to the apostle like one gigantic precious stone. “Jasper” does not refer to the modern stone of the same name, which is opaque. It is from the Greek word referring to a translucent stone. The word “jasper” in this passage is best understood as referring to a diamond, a very costly one because it is crystal-clear and unblemished. Heaven’s capital city is thus pictured as a huge, flawless diamond, refracting the brilliant, blazing glory of God throughout the new heaven and the new earth.

2. Its Exterior Design

"It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements. The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl." (Rev. 21:12–21a)

That the city “had a great and high wall” indicates that it is not a nebulous, floating place. It has specific dimensions and limits. It can be entered and left through its twelve gates. At those gates twelve angels were stationed, to attend to God’s glory and to serve His people. The gates had “names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel,” celebrating for all eternity God’s covenant relationship with Israel. They were arranged symmetrically. There were three gates each on the east, south, north, and west sides. That arrangement is reminiscent of the way the twelve tribes camped around the tabernacle (Numbers 2), and of the allotment of the tribal lands around the millennial temple (Ezekiel 48).

The massive wall of the city was anchored by “twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Those stones commemorate God’s covenant relationship with the church, with the apostles as the foundation (Ephesians 2:20). At the top of each gate was the name of one of the tribes of Israel. At the bottom of each gate was the name of one of the apostles. The layout of the city’s gates pictures God’s favor on all His redeemed people, both those under the old and new covenants.

Then a curious thing occurred. The angel who spoke with John “had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates, and its wall.” This interesting event is reminiscent of the measuring of the millennial temple (Ezekiel 40:3ff.) and the measuring of the tribulation temple (11:1). The significance of all three measurements is that they mark out what belongs to God.

The results of the angel’s measuring revealed that “the city is laid out as a square.” The city walls are about 1,380 miles in each direction. Its length and width and height are equal. Some have suggested that the city is in the shape of a pyramid, though it is best seen as a cube.1 The focus is that God will design the New Jerusalem with plenty of room for all the redeemed (cf. John 14:2–3).

The angel next measured the city’s wall at seventy-two yards, most likely its thickness. Then, as if to emphasize that the city’s dimensions are literal and not mystical, John adds the parenthetical footnote that those dimensions were given “according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements.” A yard is a yard, a foot is a foot, and a mile is a mile, whether for humans or angels.

The material that the massive city wall was made out of was jasper—the same diamond-like stone mentioned in verse 11. Not only was the wall translucent, but also the city itself “was pure gold, like clear glass.” The New Jerusalem’s walls and buildings must be clear for the city to radiate the glory of God.

John next turns his attention in the vision to the foundation stones of the city wall. They were adorned with every kind of precious stone, twelve of which the apostle names. The names of some of the stones have changed through the centuries, making their identification uncertain. These brightly-colored stones refract the shining brilliance of God’s glory into a panoply of beautiful colors. The scene was one of breathtaking beauty, a spectrum of dazzling colors flashing from the New Jerusalem throughout the re-created universe.

The next facet of the heavenly city that caught John’s eye was the twelve gates, which were twelve pearls. Pearls were highly prized and of great value in John’s day. But these pearls were like no pearl ever produced by an oyster, because each one of the gates was a single gigantic pearl nearly 1,400 miles high.