New Jerusalem Unveiled

SYNOPSISFollowing the final judgment, John sees the “holy city, New Jerusalem” descending to the earth – Revelation 21:1-8.

Vancouver - Photo by Spencer Watson on Unsplash
Already, John has seen a glimpse of the city, “New Jerusalem,” descending from heaven. However, the time has arrived for it to be unveiled in all its glory. This next section concentrates on the physical dimensions of the city.  It must be borne in mind - What is presented is a vision, a reality communicated in symbolic language. In the present age, a city twenty-four hundred kilometers square is a physical improbability, if not an impossibility. Such proportions stagger the imagination. Likewise, a “pearl” large enough to be fashioned into a city gate is difficult to grasp.

The physical glory and size of the “city” prepare the reader for the subsequent description of its inhabitants - New Jerusalem is be occupied by an innumerable multitude of men and women redeemed from every nation, not just a tiny remnant of faithful martyrs who escape from the tribulation by the skin of their teeth.

The vision borrows language and symbolism from aspects of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness from the Exodus story, and from Ezekiel’s vision of an idealized city and Temple (Ezekiel chapters 40-48). This background serves to link “New Jerusalem” to the covenant people of God. The “holy city” is not a reconstituted ancient Tabernacle, Temple, or city of Jerusalem, but the fulfillment of all that they foreshadowed.

The idea of a sanctuary in which God’s presence dwells but, also, limits its manifestation is transformed - His glory will fill the entire creation without any limitations. Note well – The book of Revelation locates the ideal temple from the book of Ezekiel in New Jerusalem, not in the ‘Millennium’.

  • (Revelation 21:9-23) – “And there came one of the seven messengers which had the seven bowls that were full of the seven last plagues, and spake with me, saying — Hither! I will point out to thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in spirit unto a mountain great and high, and pointed out to me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God; having the glory of God, — her lustre like unto a stone most precious, as a jasper stone shining as crystal; having a wall great and high, having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve messengers, and names inscribed, which are [the names] of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, — on the east three gates, and on the north, three gates, and on the south, three gates, and on the west, three gates; and the wall of the city having twelve foundations, and upon them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he that was talking with me had for a measure a reed of gold, that he might measure the city and the gates thereof and the wall thereof. And the city four-square lieth, and the length thereof is as great as the breadth. And he measured the city with the reed, —twelve thousand furlongs: the length and the breadth and the height thereof are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, — a hundred and forty-four cubits: the measure of a man, which is [the measure] of a messenger. And the structure of the wall thereof was jasper, and the city was pure gold, like unto pure glass. The foundations of the wall of the city with every precious stone were adorned: the first foundation 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 hyacinth, the twelfth amethyst; and the twelve gates were twelve pearls, — each one of the gates, severally, was of one pearl; and the broadway of the city was pure gold, as transparent glass. And sanctuary saw I none therein; for the Lord God, the Almighty, is the sanctuary thereof and the Lamb. And the city hath no need of the sun nor of the moon, that they should shine therein; for the glory of God illumined it and the lamp thereof was the Lamb.” (Source: The Emphasized Bible).

One of the seven angels carried me away in the Spirit unto a mountain great and high.” The description is given by one of the seven angels that delivered the Seven Bowls of Wrath, just as occurred in the vision of the “Great Harlot.” The “bride,” “New Jerusalem” is contrasted with the “Great Harlot,” the city of “Babylon.” John was “carried away” to the “wilderness” to see the “Great Harlot”; now, he is “carried in the spirit to a mountain great and high” where he sees the “Bride.”

The image echoes the opening paragraph of Ezekiel’s lengthy description of an idealized city and Temple complex. The description of John “carried in the spirit” to a specific location from which he sees a vision is parallel to the start of each of the previous major divisions of Revelation:

  • (Ezekiel 40:1-4) – “In the five and twentieth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, in the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten, in the selfsame day, the hand of Yahweh was upon me, and he brought me thither. In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me down upon a very high mountain, whereon was as it were the frame of a city on the south. And he brought me thither; and, behold, there was a man, whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed; and he stood in the gate. And the man said unto me, Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thy heart upon all that I shall show thee; for, to the intent that I may show them unto thee, art thou brought hither: declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel.”
  • (Revelation 1:8) – “I came to be in the Spirit in the Lord’s day {on the isle of Patmos}, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.”
  • (Revelation 4:1) – “After these things I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice that I heard, a voice as of a trumpet speaking with me, one saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must come to pass hereafter. Immediately, I came to be in the Spirit: and behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne.”
  • (Revelation 17:1-3) – “And there came one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls and spoke with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the judgment of the great harlot that sits upon many waters; with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and they that dwell in the earth were made drunken with the wine of her fornication. And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness: and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.”

In the book of Revelation, the “wilderness” echoes the story of Israel’s “exodus” in the wilderness prior to its entrance into the promised land. The “wilderness” corresponds to the “earth” in the present age - The church is a pilgrim people protected by God but harassed by malevolent forces during its sojourn. Thus, John saw the persecuting power of Babylon persecuting the saints in the “wilderness” (Revelation 12:6, 12:14).

Likewise, the “great and high mountain” from which John now sees “New Jerusalem” corresponds to the “Zion” where the Lamb stood with the 144,000 saints “redeemed from the earth.”  All other “mountains” in the present age “flee” at the arrival of the Lamb on the Day of the Lord (Revelation 6:12-17, 14:1, 16:20).

The holy city Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” As before, “New Jerusalem” is in the process of “descending from heaven” to the (new) earth. The Greek participle for “descending” is a progressive present - An action in progress. Note well that Jerusalem descends to the earth - Saints do not ascend to it from the earth (Revelation 3:12, 21:2).

World city Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash
By sergio souza on Unsplash

Her light was like a precious stone, a jasper stone clear as crystal.” The clause links “New Jerusalem” and its “glory of God” to the Throne in John’s vision of the “one who sits on the throne” (Revelation 4:2-3 – “there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne; and he that sat was to look upon like a jasper stone and a sardius”). The point is not the kind of materials or the color of the stones from which the “city” is constructed; rather, the city reflects the glory of the person who sits on the heavenly throne (compare - Ezekiel 28:13).

The names of the twelve tribes of Israel.” This clause is another link to Ezekiel’s vision of an idealized city where the gates are named after the twelve tribes of God’s people:

  • (Ezekiel 48:31-34) – “The gates of the city shall be after the names of the tribes of Israel, three gates northward: the gate of Reuben, one; the gate of Judah, one; the gate of Levi, one. And at the east side four thousand and five hundred reeds, and three gates: even the gate of Joseph, one; the gate of Benjamin, one; the gate of Dan, one. And at the south side four thousand and five hundred reeds by measure, and three gates: the gate of Simeon, one; the gate of Issachar, one; the gate of Zebulun, one. At the west side four thousand and five hundred reeds, with their three gates: the gate of Gad, one; the gate of Asher, one; the gate of Naphtali, one.”

Twelve foundations and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” This addition demonstrates that what is portrayed in not a reconstituted nation of Israel or a one-to-one “literal” fulfillment of Ezekiel’s ideal city. The office of “apostle” was not instituted until the ministry of Jesus. Previously in Revelation, the book summoned the saints, “apostles,” and the “prophets” to rejoice over the demise of the “Great Harlot, Babylon” (Revelation 18:20).

The book of Revelation does not develop its understanding of church government. True “apostles” are only mentioned here and Chapter 18, therefore, it is not clear whether only the original twelve apostles were intended in the latter verse. However, the “twelve apostles of the Lamb” can only refer to the twelve apostles who built the church.

Of more relevance is the close association of these “apostles” with the “Lamb.” True apostleship means to follow the Lamb wherever he goes - To emulate the “faithful witness” of Jesus. The language may point to the understanding found elsewhere in the New Testament that Jesus built his new covenant people on the foundation of the “apostles.”

Vancouver, BC - Photo by Daniel Seifried on Unsplash
By Daniel Seifried on Unsplash

A golden reed to measure the city.” This clause recalls the vision of the “reed” given to John to measure the sanctuary. That reed was not “golden.” The one given to him here is made of gold because it is used to measure “New Jerusalem,” which is constructed of gold and many other precious materials. As will be seen, there is no “sanctuary” in “New Jerusalem,” therefore, the “golden reed” is not the same “reed” used previously to measure the “sanctuary.”

The change to a “golden reed” means its purpose is not the same as that of the earlier “reed” used to measure the “sanctuary.” The latter was done to separate and protect the “sanctuary,” the “altar,” and the priestly company that served in it. Now, New Jerusalem is measured to establish its physical parameters in preparation for its habitation. Its massive dimensions are not designed to impress us visually but to house an innumerable multitude of redeemed men and women (cp. Ezekiel 48:8-35):

  • (Ezekiel 40:2-5) – “In the visions God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me down upon a very high mountain…there was a man, whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed; an-d he stood in the gate. And the man said unto me…Declare all that you see to the house of Israel. And, behold, a wall on the outside of the house round about, and in the man’s hand a measuring reed six cubits long, of a cubit and a handbreadth each: so he measured the thickness of the building, one reed; and the height, one reed.”

The city lies foursquare…twelve thousand stadia…its length, breadth and height equal…the wall a hundred-forty and four cubits.” The dimensions are multiples of four and twelve - Their purpose is to symbolize the people of God (e.g., “twelve” as in the “twelve tribes of Israel”). The measurement of 144 cubits recalls the company of the 144,000 males from the twelve tribes of Israel “sealed” for service to God (Revelation 7:1-8, 14:1-4).

The altars of incense and burnt offering used in the ancient Tabernacle were “foursquare” and constructed of “shittim wood.”; so, also, the “ephod” or breastplate worn by the high priest  (Exodus 37:25, 39:9, 1 Kings 7:31, Ezekiel 40:47, 48:20).

Likewise, in the book of Revelation, the altar is associated with the “saints,” especially to their testimony and worship (Revelation 6:9-11, 8:3-5, 11:1-2).

New Jerusalem” is also “foursquare” but it is constructed from gold and precious gems to stress its glory and permanence. It is not built of shittim wood or anything else perishable. “Foursquare” also provides a verbal link to the idea of universality, as in the “four living creatures,” the “four corners” and the “four winds” of the earth (Revelation 4:6, 7:1-3, 20:8-10).

The physical dimensions of the city are massive, twelve thousand “stadia” or approximately fifteen hundred miles long (twenty-four hundred kilometers), wide, and high. The proportions would be nearly impossible to build on the earth - Its boundaries are coterminous with the New Earth - The city encompasses the entire inhabited world.

The foundations of the wall were adorned with every precious stone.” The twelve stones correspond to the gems once displayed on the breastplate worn by the high priest when performing his duties. This is another symbol that points to the new people of God (Exodus 28:17-20, 39:10).

I saw no temple for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the temple.” Revelation has not abandoned the biblical vision of a perfect temple; however, now, the entire “city” is now the Temple of God, the place in which His glory dwells. No longer is the Temple contained within a narrow physical space. In the “New Jerusalem” is encompasses the entire creation.

In the book of Revelation, the sun and moon are parts of the old order that could be affected negatively by God’s judgments; thus, for example, the sun became “black as sackcloth” and the moon “became as blood” on the Day of the Lord. With the “city” now filled by the glory of God, no longer is there any need for the sun, moon, or stars (Revelation 6:12, 8:12, 9:2, 16:8).

The city is illuminated not just by the “glory of God,” but because the Lamb is the “lamp” in the city.  There is no knowledge or glory of God apart from Jesus, and it is in his role as the sacrificial Lamb that he accomplishes all this. Ever since the book’s vision of the heavenly throne, consistently, Jesus has been identified as the “Lamb,” including in the “New Creation.”

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