The New Jerusalem
In this passage, John reveals a more detailed vision of the new creation. He received the vision as an angel came and carried him away in the spirit to a great, high mountain. (9) This is very similar to Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple. The hand of the Lord was on Ezekiel, he set him on a very hight mountain, and Ezekiel saw a structure like a city. (Ezekiel 40:1-2) Today’s passage has many similarities to Ezekiel 40. That is because they are about the same thing. John saw the new Jerusalem with God in it’s midst. Ezekiel saw a great city with a temple, which represented God’s presence, in it.
The angel with John told him he would show him the Bride, the wife of the Lamb. The Bride of the Lamb is the church.
The angel showed John the holy city Jerusalem coming down from heaven from God. So the city is the Bride. It may also represent the dwelling place of the Bride, the church. Since there is so much symbolism, it is difficult to draw hard lines between the two.
This city glowed with the glory of God. God’s glory manifests itself in brilliant light. Paul wrote that God dwells in unapproachable light. (1 Timothy 6:16) The appearance of angels was often marked by brilliant light. The city had the glory of God because it was his creation. He built it for his people, the saints. (I use “saints” in the protestant sense of all believers, not in the Catholic sense of great Christians given a special title.) Verse 27 emphases that they only occupants of the city are whose who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. The church is lovely in the sight of God.
The city radiated God’s glory. It looked like a rare jewel, like jasper, but was clear as crystal. Jasper as we know it today is usually some shade of red. There is a rare green color. It polishes to a high shine. Regardless of the exact color, John saw the city as beautifully radiant and glorious. He was trying to describe what he saw in terms the people of his day could understand, but it was difficult because it was so glorious.
The city also was also encompassed by a great wall. At each of the 12 gates stood an angel. It reminds us of the angel guarding the entrance to Eden. (Genesis 3:24) This tells us the city is safe. No evil person or thing can enter it. The saints were vulnerable on earth, but are not invulnerable under God’s protection. Indeed, verse 25 tells us the gates will never be shut. That is because there is no reason to shut them. Gates of walled cities were usually shut at night so that enemies could not sneak in. But here there will be no night.
The gates are inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes. The foundations, also 12, are inscribed with the names of the apostles. This shows us the Old Testament saints and the New Testament saints are together in the church, together experiencing the glorious provision of God for them. Ephesians 2:20 says the household of God is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. The apostles took the teaching of Jesus and their witness to his resurrection and became the foundation of the church. Hebrews 11:39 says “And all these (people of faith in the Old Testament), though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” This new creation is the “something better”.
The angel had a golden measuring rod to measure the city, including the walls and gates. (15) This also is similar to Ezekiel 40. There a man of bronze had a measuring reed. He measured the temple, the gates and the wall also.
When the city was measured in chapter 11, the outer court, or court of the Gentiles, was not measured. It symbolized the persecution that would be brought against the church in this age. Here is chapter 21, the entire city is measured, symbolizing its completely safety and security. The angel measured the city for John and showed it to be a cube. The height, width and length are the same (12,000 stadia) (1,365 miles).
Remember that the Most Holy Place in Solomon’s temple was a perfect cube. 1 Kings 6:20. It was 20 cubits long, wide and high, covered in gold. It demonstrated God’s perfection. The same is true of the heavenly city seen by John. The whole city reflects God’s perfection. God will dwell there in the midst of his people as his presence dwelt in the Most Holy Place in Solomon’s temple. The walls of the Most Holy Place were covered in gold. In contrast, the entire heavenly city is pure gold, like glass. (18) It is even more glorious than Solomon’s temple.
The walls were 144 cubits. That is 12 x 12 cubits, again reflecting the church’s existence as all of believing Old Testament Israel and the believers of the New Testament Church. The walls are also very thick, about 216 feet or or 65 meters, showing the safety and security of the city.
Even the foundations are beautiful. They are adorned with jewels of different kinds. The list is similar to the list of stones on Aaron’s breastplate in Exodus 15. Aaron was the first high priest of Israel. This may reflect that all of the members of the church are priests before God. Peter wrote the we are a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9)
Each of the 12 gates was made of one pearl and the streets were made of transparent gold. (21) This is where they sayings “pearly gates” and “streets of gold” comes from.
In the midst of this beauty and radiance, John noticed a few things missing. There was no temple in the city. (22) He tells us it is because the temple is God the Father and Jesus the Son. They dwell in the midst of the city, the saints. Therefore, no temple is needed. All of the new creation is God’s temple.
Also missing is the sun and moon. They are unnecessary because the glory of God will provide all the light needed. (23) This is the fulfillment of Isaiah 60:19, where God, speaking of the glory of the future Jerusalem, said: The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light, but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” The nations will walk in this light, believers from all over the world. This is also a fulfillment of Isaiah 60, where God says “nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising”. (Isaiah 60:3)
Inside the city is the river of the water of life. (22:1) It flows from the throne of God through the middle of the street of the city. It is the picture of eternal life coming from the Lord. In Ezekiel 47, water flowed from the threshold of the temple through the complex, getting deeper and deeper as it went until it was a river Ezekiel could not cross.
Along the banks of the river grew the tree of life. It has 12 kinds of fruit, one for each month. This again is a symbol of God providing for eternal life and providing all our needs in the new creation. This is also shown by the fact that the leaves of the tree heal the nations.
This again refers back to Ezekiel’s temple in Ezekiel 47. There the river which flowed from the temple was full of fish and trees lined the river bearing fruit for food. It is the picture, in Old Testament terms, of God providing for the saints in eternity. Also, their leaves are for healing. The image in Ezekiel and in Revelation are almost identical.
There is also here a picture of Eden in Genesis 2. It was a garden full of trees that were beautiful to see and filled with fruit good to eat. The tree of life was in the garden. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden. That garden was ruined by sin and man was cast out. The way back in was barred by a sword wielding angel. Now, the way is open. Eden is restored for men and women. There is no sin to ruin it. In fact, there is no tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Revelation 22:3 says there is nothing cursed there. Again men and women will commune directly with God and worship him. We will see his face! We will be his (his name on our foreheads), he will light our way, and we will reign with him forever and ever, for eternity.
What a wonderful thing to look forward to! It gives us hope for the future.