(9) Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
How fascinating to contemplate how God chose to have one of the seven angels – who poured out the bowls of wrath upon Jerusalem – to show John the new Jerusalem. This is an arresting point when compared with 17:1, “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.'” To me, this angel is a connection between the fall of physical Jerusalem to the descension of the new Jerusalem out of heaven from God. This accords with this book that reveals the “things that must soon take place.” For those who believe the unfaithful spouse of chapter seventeen is Rome and the bride is heaven of the future, this verse makes no sense with their view; for what does the fall of Rome – about 400 years and over 80 emperors into the future for the original recipients – have to do with the introduction into heaven? First, how is any of that the “things that must soon take place” (22:6)? Secondly, what does this specific angel have in connection to the fall of Rome and heaven? Or, a better question, what does the fall of Rome have in connection to heaven? Nothing that I know of. But if this book revealed the things that must soon take place, i.e. first century things, then the unfaithful spouse is the wicked house of Israel whose center point was the temple in Jerusalem; and the bride is the new Jerusalem, the spiritual house of God, the church, who was consummated under the new covenant, which saw it’s sole reign at the vanishing away of the old covenant.
“I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” The new Jerusalem is not a physical place but the wife of the Lamb, a people. For comments on the bride, see 19:7, 8; 21:2.
(10) And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,
The detailed look into the new Jerusalem begins here and continues into the next chapter. This section greatly resembles the vision which Ezekiel had of the glorious and holy Jerusalem (Ezekiel chapters 40-48).
“…the hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me to the city. (2) In visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south.” (Ezekiel 40:1-2).
“To a great, high mountain.” Is there a better, more fitting way to view the city of God? You can’t see it all at sea level; you can’t walk up a hill and view it all; you must make it to the highest heights to get an understanding of the greatness of the people of God. Isaiah said that the church would be “established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it” (Isaiah 2:2). Daniel saw it as the stone that “became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” (Daniel 2:35). So, you’d have to climb really high to see the great expanse of the people of God; for they are not a literal nation, nor a literal city, but people filling up the whole earth who have obtained a new covenant relationship with God through the blood of the Lamb.
“Coming down out of heaven from God.” This is not heaven for it comes down out of heaven! This is speaking of the church’s heavenly origins. It is not a physical city but a spiritual one, as Jesus taught the Samaritan woman (John 4:20-24). So, all together, the city described in this vision is not heaven because it is not a place but a people – the wife of the Lamb; and it is not heaven because it descended out of heaven to the earth and was among mankind (see 21:3 21:24).
(11) having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
We are to be a city of light set upon a hill, which cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). Our lives must radiate with the glory of God, illuminating those around us. Speaking in contrast of the old covenant to the new, Paul wrote,
“Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. (11) For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:10-11).
The blood of the new covenant brought us reconciliation with God, the forgiveness of sins, so that we can be pure, blameless and holy people before God. These characteristics are the identity of God’s goodness, i.e. his glory (Exodus 33:18-19, 34:6-7). The church, being the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23), is to shine with the same goodness, living according to the identity of God (Ephesians 4:15; 1 Peter 1:14-16). Paul gives further identity to the light of the new covenant people, when he speaks of it as the knowledge that we hold of God’s goodness in Christ;
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
As true Christians, our radiance is not only to be seen in our godly deeds but in our knowledgeable words of Christ and salvation. If all we show the world is our kindness, then we have inadvertently promoted ourselves; but if, along with our goodness, we make it known that it is because of Christ that we live in this manner, then we glorify Christ for the great things that he has done.
“A most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” The radiance of the bride is described with the likeness of crystal-clear jasper. There is an important connection here to appearance of God that was described earlier; “And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper…” (4:3). Therefore, the church appears with the same description of gloriousness as God the Father, and rightly so, for such people are from God, a new creation in Christ, holy as God is holy, and the imitate their heavenly father (Ephesians 5:1).
(12) It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—
The great and high wall may have reference to the protection that God has over his people, but the gates in the wall are always wide open (21:25); so maybe protection is not the point of the picture. Possibly a better consideration would be the grandeur of the city, which is certainly the point in 21:17. Back then, a city was measured by the greatness of it’s walls; the greater the city, the greater and higher the walls.
“With twelve gates.” The gates were not for protection, for they never close (see 21:25); they were used as entrances for the people of the world to come and have a relationship with God (see 21:26). Twelve, being the representative number for God’s people in both the old and new covenants, is fitting for the number of entrances.
“At the gates twelve angels.” While the gates were open entrances, there was an angel at each entrance, to rejoice at the salvation of those entering the church (Luke 15:10) and to keep out all things that are corrupt (see 21:27). They may serve in the likeness of the cherubim (plural) who, after the sin in the garden of Eden, ensured that man was kept out of the garden and away from the tree of life. As the tree of life is found in the bride of the Lamp (22:2), then those who have not had their sins washed away must not be permitted to eat of its fruit.
“On the gates the names of the twelve tribes.” This correlates with Ezekiel’s vision of the new Jerusalem, the holy city (see comments on Ezekiel’s vision in 21:15). Ezekiel had seen twelve gates, each were designated to a particular tribe (Ezekiel 48:31-34). Earlier, we saw the twelve tribes did not represent the old covenant people (see comments on Revelation 7:4); that isn’t figurative, for the twelve tribes literally were the old covenant people! But in this signified book, they represent the people of promise, the new testament church, which is fitting, for these are the gates of the new covenant people.
(13) on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.
This follows the vision in Ezekiel 48:31-34 (see previous verse), for Ezekiel saw this exact detail. The meaning of this picture appears to be the entrance of salvation from the four corners of the earth. Jesus told his apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Bringing all nations to salvation was certainly the message of the old testament prophets (Isaiah 2:2, 11:10, 42:6, 49:6, 54:3, 60:3, 60:11, 61:11, 62:2, 66:12, 66:18; Jeremiah 3:17, 16:19; Ezekiel 38:16, 39:21; Daniel 7:14; Micah 4:2; Haggai 2:7; Zechariah 2:11, 8:22, 9:10; Malachi 1:11). And all of this is because of the promise that God gave to Abraham, saying,
“Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 28:14).
This promise was fulfilled in Christ and is manifested in the church,
“And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29).
(14) And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Corresponding to the twelve gates in the wall are the twelve foundations. Like the gates, each foundation had the inscription of a name, but this time it was the names of the apostles. There is no need for a foolish discussion on whether this was the names of the original twelves, or that it included Matthias rather than Judas, or whether it included Paul rather than Matthias; for this is a figure, not to be taken literally. The figure represents not the physical apostles, but what they taught as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul also taught that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles,
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, (20) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, (21) in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19-21).
Again we see that the figure of the bride, the Lamb’s wife, in Revelation 21-22 cannot be a representation of heaven, but of the new covenant people, built on the teachings of the apostles who went into all the world and preached the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; Romans 10:18, 16:26; Colossians 1:6, 1:23).
(15) And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.
This is the second time in the book where we have a vision being measured. First, we saw John measuring the people of the house of Israel, the old Jerusalem in the first century; they were found lacking, not measuring to the standard of God’s law and holiness (see 11:1-2). On the reverse side of that, we see the new Jerusalem, that holds to the perfect measurements of God’s holiness.
Similar measurements of the new covenant people had taken place in prophecy through Ezekiel and Zechariah. Zechariah’s discussion of measuring the city is short but the results were a wonderful, secure and glorious place where God dwells with his people (Zechariah 2:4-5, 11). Ezekiel’s vision, however, is of great length and detail, spanning from Ezekiel 40:1 to the very last word of the book (48:35). Like Zechariah and Revelation, Ezekiel’s vision of the city was meant to be understood symbolically, as spiritual truths. This is evident from many points of the vision, like when all twelve of the tribes of Israel inhabit the land (48:2-8), which is literally impossible as there were only two tribes left in existence when Ezekiel was living (Judah and Benjamin). Another simple indicator that this is a figurative message is when a stream of water originates from the temple building, the further it travels, the deeper and wider it gets, and everything the water touches will live (47:1-12).
The main theme of Ezekiel’s vision was to acquaint the people of God in Ezekiel’s day with the church, so that they may be ashamed of the way they have been acting when they see the glorious holiness of people who are true to the covenant of God.
“As for you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan.” (Ezekiel 43:10).
Measuring the plan and pattern of the temple was to teach the people that the dimensions of holiness are a set standard which God reveals to man through law (43:12). And where holiness is met, God justly dwells, as Ezekiel also sees (43:1-9). The fact that the temple is holy means that the people are holy, for they are the stones which make up the holy temple (1 Peter 2:5). The new covenant people shall be priests of God, serving in his temple, and unlike the old covenant priests who did not know nor teach the difference between what is holy and unholy (Ezekiel 22:26), the new covenant priests will know the difference and teach it to others.
“They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” (44:23).
Because the new covenant people fulfill the plan of salvation and the pattern of holiness in their lives, God gloriously dwells among them, just as we’ve seen in the vision of Revelation (21:3). Ezekiel ends his testimony on a powerful note,
“And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The LORD Is There.” (48:35).
The Lord is there! The Lord is there where his pattern is met. The Lord is there among those who love him and show it through their obedience to his law. The Lord is there among those who have patterned their lives after him.
Back to John’s vision of the angel with the measuring rod, though different details will be pointed out in the text, we can expect the same result as Ezekiel saw, that this is the most holy place where God dwells among his holy people.
(16) The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal.
We have seen much in the book that is completed by four (4:6; 5:13; 6:1-8; 7:1; 9:13, 14). The throne of God is foursquare, the altar is foursquare, and even the earth is considered foursquare. Now we see the city, the bride, the new covenant people of God, and they are represented as foursquare; not just in length and width, but also in height. This is in the likeness of the most holy place of the physical temple, the place were God dwelt in separation among man, for it was also foursquare in length, width, and height (1 Kings 6:20). But now there is no separation, but by a new and living way through Christ, man can enter boldly into the dwelling place of God (Hebrews 10:19).
“12,000 stadia.” Earlier, God’s people were numbered by the 12,000’s (7:5-8), and this verse continues that theme; twelve being the number that God has always used to represent his people, and it’s multiplication by 1,000 intensifies the greatness of the people. The “12,000 stadia” does not mean 12,000 miles as some have asserted. The word “stadia” used here, is a transliteration of the Greek word (stadion), which is where the English word “stadium” originates. The original word is actually in reference to the original Greek stadium, as used in the Olympics. Literally, the ancient Olympic track was 185 meters. The use of the word here is not to taken literally, i.e. 2,220,000 meters; but to demonstrate that the city has a precisely measured and fixed dimensions. There is nothing loose, or unbecoming of the pattern, it is a tight foursquare that declares the righteousness and perfection of God.
(17) He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement.
We are already familiar with the number 144, for it was used earlier in the book to represent the people of God (see comments on 7:4). The idea that the human measurement is equal to the angel’s measurement is spoken to confirm that the 144 cubits is not something unknown to man, as if this angel with the golden measuring rod was using a different cubit than humans; but it is same measurement that man would know and understand. The significance to this is that man is expected to know and understand the pattern of the Lamb’s bride, the church, for God has revealed his will to us in understandable terms (Ephesians 5:17), not in some unknown angel tongue, or anything that was impossible for man to comprehend.
(18) The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass.
Jasper was the descriptive appearance of God (4:3) and the descriptive radiance of the bride (21:11). This is a picture, so it is meant to be pictured in our heads. We know that it is not literal but viewing the city as it is described in the vision is one reason why John is recording all these details. Just imagine the brilliance of a wall built entirely out of a precious stone, standing 200 stories tall! And the whole city was made of pure gold, but not like any kind of gold that we have seen before; John likened it to clear glass. Imagine the beauty of this city, which is not overlaid with, but made entirely of a gold that was clear, transparent, and pure. The majesty, the glory of the bride and her worth to the Lamb is certainly understood by these pictures.
(19) The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, (20) the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.
The adornment of the twelve foundations of the wall was with twelve precious stones. The twelve stone picture calls to mind the twelve precious stones on the breastplate of judgment which the old covenant priests wore (Exodus 28:17-20). The whole adornment of the priest was holy, and it was “for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2). John appears to speak of the same kinds of stones, particularly in the way that the Septuagint version translates Exodus 28:17-20 into Greek; but the order that John gives to the stones is distinct. Nevertheless, this description of the new covenant people manifests the glorious beauty of their holiness, as priests to God (1 Peter 2:5).
(21) And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
There are twelve entrances into the city, all of which are always wide open (21:25). The number twelve, representing the people of God, and the gates, inscribed with the people (21:12), are indications that this is a picture not just of the cities entrance, but the way that people find their way to Christ, through the work of evangelism. It is God’s people who invite the world to come and enter the way of the Lord (22:17). The beauty of such an entrance into a covenant relationship with God is likened to lovely pearls; each gate carved from a single pearl. There is no imperfections, no cracks, and no seams, just wholeness. Those who pass through the gates will immediately find themselves on the street made of pure, clear, transparent gold; a likeness of the glistening beauty of walking with God.
(22) And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
John saw no temple structure within the city, but that does not mean that there is no temple within the city. John explains that the “Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” are the temple. A temple’s purpose is to be a wall of separation between what is holy and what is unholy; within the new Jerusalem there is a temple without walls, without separation! God dwells freely among men (21:3)! Within the city walls there is only a holy people (Romans 8:1; Colossians 1:22; 1 Peter 1:15, 2:5), “nothing unclean will ever enter it” (21:27), for those who do enter are healed (22:2).
(23) And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
The city has no need of physical light, for it is a spiritual people. Physical cities reflect the light from the sun and moon; but the bride of the Lamb shines with the light of glory from God and the Lamb. This is not only a well-established figure in the new testament text (Matthew 5:16; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 5:8; Philippians 2:15; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:5-7), but this is what God promised in the church through the prophet Isaiah, saying,
“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. (20) Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.” (Isaiah 60:19-20).
(24) By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,
This verse, like the previous one, holds to the context of Isaiah 60. This statement is nearly word-for-word from Isaiah’s prophecy, which said,
“And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:3).
Jesus told his apostle to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). The new Jerusalem’s “righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory” (Isaiah 62:1-2).
“Kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” This is the honor due to the Christ who now rules all nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9; Revelation 12:5), and to the city of people who reign with him (Revelation 2:26-27).
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. (11) Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. (12) Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:10-12).
(25) and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.
The gates will never be shut due to the reasons of both the previous verse and the following verse. The city, the people, provide an attractive light to those in darkness, but this is of no effect if the gates are shut. The bride’s constant invitation to the lost to “come” and “take the water of life freely” (22:17) is of no effect if those invited come only to find the gates shut. How will they have opportunity to enter the new covenant relationship with God and the Lamb?
“There will be no night there.” No night in the city means no darkness. There sins have been washed away and they no longer walk in darkness, but in the light of Christ’s word. Paul said something along these lines to the churches,
“You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.” (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
(26) They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
Those outside the city will see its light, and enter through the open gates, bringing in glory and honor from every nation. Men turning to glorify God and honor him in their lives, that’s the effect of the light of the gospel! Jesus explained this effect, saying,
“let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16).
According to Jesus, the light in the disciples is manifested by “good works;” and, in another place, he said that God is glorified when his disciples “bear much fruit” (John 15:8). People of all nations coming into the church, bringing glory and honor to God is a great picture of the purpose the city holds in the plan of redemption.
(27) But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Even though the gates are never shut, still noting unclean, detestable or false is able to enter; that cannot be said of a physical city but only of the spiritual city of God. Those who are of the city of God are able to walk in the light of Christ without the need to go out of the world (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). Those who do wrong are not citizens of the city.