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Revelation 21

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(Revelation 21—22)

The scene here moves to eternity, after the end of time, when all the enemies of God have been vanquished, following the final judgment of all men, and when the long drama of human struggles and temptations shall have been concluded.

Christ promised that his faithful servants should "enter into the joy" of their Lord at his coming (Matthew 25:23); Paul encouraged the Philippians with precious words of their "citizenship … in heaven" (Philippians 3:20); Peter wrote that, "We look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13); James said that Christians "shall be heirs of the kingdom which he promised to them that love him" (James 2:5); Jude extolled the glory of "Him who is able to present you before the throne of his glory … in exceeding joy" (Judges 1:24); and the author of this prophecy promised that, "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). Thus, all of the sacred writers and all of their prophecies of an eternal state of joy find their culmination and fulfillment (prophetically) in these final two chapters of Revelation. The Bible would not be complete without them.

We must not be perplexed or confused by the remarkable language of these chapters. Language itself, as a vehicle for the conveyance of thought, is incapable of any adequate portrayal of the realities symbolized. It is impossible to describe heaven. No metaphor, regardless of how powerful, can really carry the full weight of what the holy apostle sought to reveal in this sparkling portrayal of the final home of the soul. Therefore, we shall not spoil the picture by belaboring the symbols, nor by literalizing the materials, dimensions, and conceptions which abound in it. The beauty, riches, joy, and glory of heaven are exceedingly beyond all that people may think or imagine; and the very best description of them can be nothing but a feeble suggestion of their fullness. Nevertheless, we humbly thank God for what is written, and we shall strive to catch a little glance of what it will be to be there when the Lord comes to claim his own.

Before taking up a verse by verse study of this chapter, it is appropriate to make a survey of the doctrine of heaven as it appears in the word of God. Such a background study is essential to a full appreciation of this and the final chapters.


The keystone of the sacred arch of Christian theology is the doctrine of HEAVEN. In the English New Testament, the word occurs 261 times in some 20 New Testament books. Matthew quoted the word "heaven" 70 times from the words of Jesus, and the writings of the apostle John record it 83 times. The conception dominates the New Testament. Besides the 261 direct references using the term "heaven," there are many other passages, including whole sections of the holy Scriptures, in which it appears under a somewhat different terminology.

Jesus, for example, said:

And make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles (Luke 16:9).

Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34).

Peter likewise spoke of the same blessed estate when he said of the Christian graces:

For thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:11).

Paul’s magnificent 1 Corinthians 15, with its references to putting on "incorruption" and "immortality," is actually a discussion of heaven; and the same subject was his topic again, when he said:

For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For verily in this we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).

Jesus also referred to heaven under the figure of a house from God, saying:

In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye may be also (John 14:2-3).

Likewise the Old Testament reveals the same basic conception of heaven as a place of reward for the righteous who shall live eternally with God:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalms 25).

Daniel spoke of the book of life and of the time of the end, declaring that:

Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).

There is no understanding whatever of Jesus Christ except in the light of his unique relationship to HEAVEN:

In heaven he was from the beginning.

From heaven he came.

Of heaven he spoke.

To heaven he pointed the way.

From heaven angels announced his birth.

From heaven angels ministered to him in Gethsemane and in the Wilderness.

From heaven angels came to announce his resurrection.

From heaven the voice of God declared him to be the Son of God.

From heaven angels came to escort him to Glory.

To heaven he ascended.

From heaven the angels announced his Second Coming.

In heaven he sits at the right hand of the Majesty on High.

In heaven he reigns until all enemies shall be put underfoot.

In heaven he intercedes for Christians.

From heaven he will come again to raise the dead and summon all who ever lived to the judgment of the Great White Throne.

Take heaven out of the Bible and you have nothing left!

I. Heaven will Fulfill Man’s Most Urgent Need

A. Our current dwelling place in the tabernacle of the flesh is ephemeral, uncertain, and inadequate.

The sacred writers made the most delicate reference to this, but the very tenderness of their words underscores the pitiful and overwhelming nature of that need.

As Paul put it, "If the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved!" What kind of an "if" is this? Can any man doubt that the dissolution of this frail tent of a body is otherwise than certain and impending? How pitiful are the efforts of people to deceive themselves in such a matter as this! Mrs. Winchester, widow of the man who introduced the Winchester rifle, left behind a monstrosity of a mansion in Santa Clara, California; because she supposed that as long as she kept adding on to her house she would not die. Hundreds of stained glass windows, inverted pillars, blind doors, and almost countless rooms augmented the estate until it covered several acres of floor space. She slept in a different room each night, so that if death entered the house it could not find her. But at last death came into the blue room where she slept, and all of her striving went for naught. Mrs. Mary Baker Patterson Glover Eddy pretended that death would not come. When she could no longer ride in the buggy through the streets, she had her nurse go in her place to keep up the pretense of good health; but even in the likeness of all others, her soul deserted the body which had nowhere to go but to the grave.

Our Lord put this need in focus when he said, "WHEN YE FAIL … (KJV)." Not "if," but "when." It is in the light of this basic fact that the walls of jasper and the streets of gold rescue the soul from the blackness of despair. Heaven is the glory that plants the lilies of the resurrection upon the grave itself and arches the tomb with the rainbow of promise. Apart from this blessed hope, how tragic is all human life.

B. And what of them who reject this hope? To reject it is to commit spiritual suicide. To refuse to believe the promise of the Saviour in this sector is to accept for one’s self exactly the status of a worm or a dog. To renounce this promise of heaven is consciously to accept an evaluation of one’s own life that leaves it without any cosmic value whatever, and to claim the rottenness of the grave as one’s eternal destiny. No wonder that Jesus marveled at unbelief!

II. Where Is Heaven?

A. The only one who ever went to heaven and came back was the apostle Paul who was "caught up into the third heaven"; and he was specifically forbidden to speak of it:

He was caught up into the third heaven … he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is unlawful for a man to utter (2 Corinthians 13:2-4).

This prohibition enforced upon the apostle Paul could account for the fact that Paul did not speak of heaven as often as Matthew or John; and yet the few things that he said are abundantly rich in significance.

1. "The third heaven …" Here is the explanation of why "heavens" in the plural is so frequently used in the Old Testament, where one reads repeatedly of "the heaven of heavens," the same plural reference also appearing in the New Testament, as in "Christ is made higher than the heavens" (Hebrews 7:26). The Jews had developed a fantastic theory of seven heavens, but the word of the Lord knows nothing of any such thing.

Joe Barnett, minister of Broadway Church of Christ in Lubbock, to whom I am indebted for assistance in this sermon, identified the three heavens in Paul’s experience as: (1) the earth’s atmosphere as evident in such Scriptures as "The fowls of the heaven and the beasts of the field" (Jeremiah 15:3); (2) the starry firmament above as in Isaiah’s words: "the stars of heaven and the constellations" (Isaiah 13:10); and (3) the third heaven is the heaven where the throne of God is; "God’s throne is in heaven" (Psalms 11:4).

Two of these heavens are visible to us, although the visibility of the second heaven of the stars and constellation is only partial and limited. There is a third heaven beyond both of those which we, in a sense, can see; but the perverse and arrogant ignorance of man is reluctant to receive such a truth.

The ancient Christian cathedrals of the Kasan and St. Isaac’s in Leningrad have been plundered and raped by the godless atheistic Communists who have torn down the high altars and installed in the place of them the enlarged photographs of the vulgar Russian cosmonauts, Titov and Gegarin, with huge placards in four languages (Russian, German, French, and English) declaiming that, "We have searched the heavens, and there is no God!" Indeed, indeed! What an impudent arrogance is this! A worm has climbed to his perch on a cabbage leaf and affirms in the authority of his blindness that there are no stars or constellations. It is a measure of man’s rebellion against his Creator that, at a time when he has not explored one billionth part of the second heaven, he has the audacity to proclaim that there is no third! That God is not! That man is supreme! That there is nothing in the universe any higher than a man, who even as he boasts is brushed into the grave.

III. What Is in Heaven?

A. The throne of God is there.

Straightway I was in the Spirit, and behold there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne … he is the Lord God, the Almighty (Revelation 4:2; Revelation 4:8).

The universe is not directed by blind law, or some form of robot control but by the Person upon the throne.

B. The Lamb of God is likewise on the throne.

And I saw in the midst of the throne … a Lamb standing as though it had been slain … and the voice of ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, saying, Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and honor and glory, and blessing (Rev. 4:6,12).

C. Our hope is there.

Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast and which entereth into that which is within the veil (Hebrews 6:19).

D. Our treasure is there.

Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust doth not corrupt and where thieves do not break through and steal (Matthew 6:20).

Jesus promised the persecuted, "Great is your reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:12).

Peter spoke of the inheritance "reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4).

E. Our citizenship is there.

Our citizenship is in heaven, whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory (Philippians 3:20-21).

Illustration: After the battle of Actium (Sept. 2, 31 B.C.), Augustus Caesar, at last enthroned with absolute power made Philippi a Roman colony and banished the soldiers of Anthony, his final rival, to live there. Thus, their true citizenship was in Rome, but they lived out their days as strangers in a foreign land. This illuminates Paul’s words here.

F. Our names are written in heaven.

Help these women, for they labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, whose names are written in the book of life (Philippians 4:3).

To the returning Seventy, Jesus said, "Nevertheless rejoice not in this that the spirits are subject unto you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).

G. Our loved ones are there.

It’s the people who will make up heaven. That’s what makes any city; and the host of the redeemed of all ages await us on the other shore. Barnett tells the story of an old man who said:

When I was young, I thought of heaven as a far away place of gold, domes and spires, with mansions and a world of light and angels tripping about, none of whom I knew. Then my little brother died, and I thought of heaven as a place of golden domes and spires, streets of gold and gates of pearl and one tiny little precious face that I knew. But the Great Reaper continued his harvest of the earth, and my father and mother, and my wife and children died; and my friends, one by one faded away, until like the last leaf on the tree I alone was left. And when I think of heaven now, I always think of the loved ones whom I have loved and lost awhile, but who shall welcome me into the eternal habitations. "Oh think of the home over there, by the side of the river of light, Where the saints all immortal and fair are robed in their garments of white."

IV. Heaven Viewed in Its Greater Dimensions

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Over and beyond those things which so intimately concern ourselves, the benefits and glories of heaven exceed the very limits of the imagination. As Paul expressed it:

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man the things that God hath prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Read these two great chapters again; take a bird’s eye, general view of the whole vision; what do you see?

Note that John first described the city as it would appear from a distance:

It sits upon an immense platform of twelve foundations of precious stones: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald right on through the list of twelve, the last being amethyst.

Above the grand foundation rise the solid jasper walls, perforated by twelve gates, each made of a single immense pearl.

It lies foursquare. Have you ever considered the dimensions indicated in this description: 12,000 stadia, or furlongs … FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES wide and FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES LONG, an area 8.4 times the entire state of Texas and bigger than either Australia or Europe. But that’s not the half of it, IT IS FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES HIGH. Allowing a tenth of a mile to the level, that would be 15,000 levels, allowing a floor space of 33 3/4 billion square miles, many times the total area of the terraqueous globe.

Then John described the interior,

The gates … each one a pearl. What can this mean? It means that heaven will be a place for those who have overcome. A pearl is produced by a little sea animal’s response to a tragedy, being the only gem that is made from suffering.

Heaven is a place where there will be no more tears, but what could this mean to one who had never cried?

Heaven is a place where there is no more sorrow, but who could appreciate this who was never brokenhearted?

Heaven is a place where there is no more death, but who can appreciate this like one who has buried out of sight his beloved dead?

Heaven is a place where there is no more pain, but what can that mean to one who has never suffered?

And the street of gold! What can that mean? It means that the yellow dust which people worship on earth shall at last have found its proper place under foot in the eternal city!

And the tree of life and the river of life! Here are the fountains of eternal joy, unending bliss, security, salvation, and glory!

The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. Whatever affliction oppresses people on earth shall there be healed forevermore. The blind shall not be blind there. The cripple shall walk there. The helpless shall be strong there. The sad shall be happy there. The old shall be young there! The dead in Christ shall live there.

One of the great Restoration preachers lay dying in terrible suffering; and when a friend inquired "How are you doing?" he replied, "I am almost well"; and in a moment he was dead; but that is exactly what he was talking about. Think of grasping a hand and finding it to be the hand of the Lord, or of breathing new air and finding it to be celestial, of being transformed and finding it immortality! Think of waking up and finding it HOME! This, my beloved Christians, is the Christian’s HOMECOMING!

My beloved brothers and sisters, you see, we are all making a journey. We are passing through our allotted probation, but we have a destination that is neither in time nor space. Death marks the terminal here, but we cannot properly appreciate the significance of it. In that famous speech made by the infidel Ingersoll over the grave of a little child, he said:

We do not know which is the greatest blessing, life or death. We cannot say that death is not good. We do not know whether the grave is the end of life, or the door of another, or whether the night here is not somewhere else a dawn. Every cradle asks us, "Whence?" and every coffin, "Whither?" The poor barbarian weeping over his dead can answer the question as intelligently and satisfactorily as the robed priest of the most authentic creed. The tearful ignorance of the one is just as consoling as the learned and unmeaning words of the other.

Apart from the blessed word of God, Ingersoll was right. But you see, my beloved fellow Christians, Paul and Jesus and the blessed apostles viewed this question in the light of eternal truth, and not in the light of merely natural knowledge; and for us there is no doubt, or uncertainty. Down two millenniums of human history, the words ring out over the cemeteries of the sad earth, "We know that if the earthly house of this tabernacle be destroyed, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens." Our entry into THAT is the HOMECOMING to which we prayerfully direct your thoughts this day.

For many of us the journey is soon to be concluded. Like the river, the stream of life inevitably reaches the sea.

Where runs the river? Who can say Who hath not followed all the way By alders green and sedges gray And blossoms blue?

The meadows wide, and hill and wood Curve round to hem the eager flood. It cannot straightly as it would Its way pursue.

Whatever fields or wooded plains And waterfalls o’er which it strains, The stream at last the Vast attains. And I and you!

— Anonymous

May all Christians, therefore, think of the final HOMECOMING with joy and not with sorrow. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and may we refrain from facing the inevitable change with anything less than infinite trust in Him who loved us and gave himself for us.

The climax of that HOMECOMING, of course, will be the joy of seeing the Saviour face to face. One like unto ourselves is upon the throne of God himself, and he shall welcome us beyond the veil. "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is"; and in my Saviour’s face all the tribulations of life shall be swallowed up in joy. As Alfred Lord Tennyson expressed it:

Sunset and evening star,

and one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

when I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

too full for sound or foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep,

turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,

and after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell

when I embark,

For though from out our home of Time and Place,

the flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

when I have crossed the bar.

We shall take the liberty of changing Tennyson’s verb in the last line: "I KNOW I’LL SEE MY PILOT FACE TO FACE, WHEN I HAVE CROSSED THE BAR."

Verse 1

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. (Revelation 21:1)

A new heaven and a new earth … "What is promised here is the fulfillment of Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22, passages strongly ascribed by millennarians to the thousand years."(F1) One of the unsolvable mysteries in this is just what is meant by "new." Paul wrote, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17) and yet the "new" man, in some sense, is the same as the old, the "newness" being in the vital change. From this, some have supposed that a similar thing could be meant by the "new" heaven and earth. Ladd wrote that, "Biblical thought always places man on a redeemed earth, not in a heavenly realm removed from earthly existence."(F2) However, we are by no means sure that such a conclusion is correct. Zerr thought the new earth here "is the one Jesus meant,"(F3) when he said, "The meek shall inherit the earth." Isaiah’s prophecy was understood by some among the Jews as a figure, and others understood it literally.(F4) The same element of uncertainty prevails now. It is not really necessary for us to know exactly what may be meant by this promise.

The first heaven and the first earth are passed away … This sheds no light on the problem noted above. Peter described the destruction of the heavens and the earth by fire (2 Peter 3:10) in language that seems to say they will utterly perish; but he compares it with the "destruction" of the earth by water in flood during the times of Noah (2 Peter 3:5). Throughout Revelation, the fleeing of the earth from God’s presence, and the removal of the islands, etc., suggest a literal destruction of the planet, as does Hebrews 12:27-28. We confess our inability to find any certainty on this question.

And the sea is no more … The same problem persists here. "The three-fold division of heaven, earth, and sea represents the whole of this world";(F5) but some very perceptive writers interpret "sea" here as did Cox, "The sea of unrest, the sea of anxiety is no more."(F6) It has also been noted that "the sea" at the time of this writing separated John from his beloved Christians in Asia Minor, and that the absence of it in the vision would mean "there will be no more separation, from loved ones." The meaning is rich, however interpreted.

Verse 2

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.

The holy city, new Jerusalem … The writer of this prophecy gave no hint, whatever, of exactly when the appearance of this holy city would occur; and it is therefore a gratuitous amendment of the holy Scriptures for scholars to assert that, "The writers of the New Testament … expected his second coming … in their own day."(F7) How could such a remark be true in the light of the "one thousand years" which John had just mentioned as leading up to the judgment day? See further comment on this particular misunderstanding of many scholars in my Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, pp. 18-20.

The holy city … "This is the church of God, now glorified and prepared for perfect communion with her Redeemer."(F8) "The old Jerusalem became one with Babylon the great harlot; but the new Jerusalem is the city which Paul calls ’The Jerusalem that is above’ (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22)."(F9) See more on this under verse 9, below. "The text does not say the church will become the Lamb’s bride at that time";(F10) she is already the Lord’s wife (Ephesians 5:25 ff). See discussion, "Regarding the Marriage Metaphor," under Revelation 19:7.

Coming down out of heaven … When humanity’s long and pitiful dream of some golden age, some fair Utopia, is finally realized, it will not come through man’s devices, but "down out of heaven from God"; and only the redeemed shall participate in it. "People may vainly imagine that by better education, better environment, disarmament conferences, share-the-wealth programs, etc., they can bring forth a new order";(F11) but it is only a fool’s dream. "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." See James 1:17 and my Commentary on James, p. 30. To the extent that people or nations may walk after God’s commandments now, some little likeness to the ultimate happiness may be achieved, but in no other way.

Verse 3

And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God:

This suggests Ezekiel 37:28. God will make his abode in the glorified Israel, the spiritual Israel, inclusive of all the redeemed of all ages. The great goal, or objective, of all salvation is that of "unmarred fellowship between God and his people."(F12)

A great voice from the throne … This is the voice of authority that again and again has echoed in this prophecy.

The tabernacle of God is with men … Note the bypassing of the temple. More and more, right through the end of the New Testament, it is clear that the vaunted temple of the Jews was their idea, not God’s, and that, as in the monarchy, God accommodated with it, despite its not being his will from the first. See article on "The True Temple," in my Commentary on James, pp. 192-199.

Verse 4

and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away.

And he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes … The highly symbolical nature of this language is evident in the truth that if "literally" there is no more crying, then there would also be no tears. It is so easy to fall into literalism, like the little girl who heard this read and exclaimed, "God certainly must have a big handkerchief!" Of course, what is meant is that there will be no causes of tears. "Descriptions of eternal blessedness are often figurative or couched in negatives because the realities are inconceivable to us in our present state."(F13) Compare this with Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 65:19. The long agony of mankind shall at last be resolved in the blissful joy of eternal life with God.

Death … mourning … pain … How can we imagine a life which bears none of the marks so indelibly stamped upon it here? The "first things" are passed away indeed!

Verse 5

And he that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he saith: Write: for these words are faithful and true.

He that sitteth on the throne said … God himself is the speaker here, somewhat of a rarity in Revelation.

Behold, I make all things new … Only God can create anew. "This is a hard blow to proud, humanistic, naturalistic man who believes that he is capable of building a better tomorrow through research, applied technology, etc."(F14) Leagues of Nations, United Nations, conferences on human rights, five-year plans, or hundred-year programs are all foredoomed to defeat and frustration. Only God can make new.

And he saith … Apparently, God also said this.

Write, for the words are faithful and true … The making of all things new is such a super-colossal conception that John seems to have been completely astounded by it, and needed to be prompted to keep on writing. "The words are faithful and true" seems to carry the thought that no matter how stupendous and impossible such things may appear to people, God will nevertheless certainly create all things new!

Verse 6

And he said unto me, They are come to pass I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.

And he said unto me … God continues to speak. Dummelow understood this as a reference to Revelation 21:5.(F15) The creation of all things new is here referred to as a past event, by the prophetic tense, showing that it is as certain to happen as if it had already occurred.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, … "As the book opens, so it closes, with the solemn assurance of the certainty and unchangeableness of God’s eternal promises (Revelation 1:8)."(F16)

I will give … of the water of life … Roberson compiled a list of the promises in Revelation to those who overcome:(F17)

To eat of the tree of life (Revelation 2:7).

Not to be hurt of the second death (Revelation 2:11).

To eat of the hidden manna (Revelation 2:17).

To receive a white stone with a new name (Revelation 2:17).

To have authority over the nations (Revelation 2:26).

To receive the morning star (Revelation 2:26).

To be arrayed in white garments (Revelation 3:5).

Not to have his name blotted out of the book of life (Revelation 3:5).

To have his name confessed before God and the angels (Revelation 3:5).

To be made a pillar in the temple of God (Revelation 3:12).

To have a new name written upon him (Revelation 3:12).

To sit down with God in his throne (Revelation 3:21).

To drink the water of life freely (Revelation 21:7).

To be God’s son and to have God for his God (Revelation 21:7).

Verse 7

He that overcometh shall inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.

He that overcometh shall inherit these things … See under verse 6, above, for a list of the fourteen promises in Revelation to those who overcome, of which this is the last one. Collectively, they show how rich indeed are the wonderful promises of God for his children. "This amazing paragraph, through Revelation 21:8, is distinctive in that here alone in Revelation, God is represented as the speaker."(F18) This is most appropriate, as it deals with a "new creation," something that only God can do.

Verse 8

But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.

The fearful … Who are the fearful, if not all men? "But it is not of natural fear and timidity that John speaks; it is that cowardice which in the last resort chooses self and safety before Christ."(F19) "It is not fear which is condemned. The highest courage is to be desperately afraid and in spite of that to do the right thing and to hold fast to loyalty."(F20)

And unbelieving … Unbelief is a gross, unpardonable sin, unless repented of. Unbelief is never a consequence of knowledge, education, intelligence, or "honesty." It is always a child of wickedness. See John 3:19, also article on "The Marvel of Unbelief," my Commentary on John, pp. 176-177, also in my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 207-209.

And abominable … This is probably a reference, primarily, to participants in the rites of paganism and the unmentionable perversions and debaucheries that attended them. By extension, it also includes all sensualists of all ages.

Murderers … fornicators … sorcerers … These sins have often been commented upon in this series; the principal significance of their appearance here lies in the fact that "God is the speaker!" These are not merely the preacher-prejudices of current religion, but the eternal laws of God against such things.

Idolaters … and liars … Idolatry, whether the worship of pagan gods, as in the days of John, or the worship and adoration of self above the God of heaven, can never be pleasing to God. No lie, however small, is a light thing in the eyes of God; and those whose lives are founded upon deceit and falsehood are indeed proscribed.

Fire and brimstone … the second death … This refers to the place of consignment for all those things for which God cannot allow any place in heaven.

Verse 9

And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues; and he spake with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb.

Some have tried to separate this description of the new Jerusalem by an artificial division between Revelation 21:1-8, and the rest of the prophecy. However, Wilcock demonstrated that the balance of this prophecy is a close-up elaboration of exactly what is included in Revelation 1-8 :(F21)

Revelation 21:2 = Revelation 21:10-12, the revelation of God’s city.

Revelation 21:3 = Revelation 21:22-27, the revelation of God’s dwelling.

Revelation 21:4-5 a = Revelation 21:1-5, the revelation of God’s world renewed.

Revelation 21:5 b = Revelation 22:6-10, the revelation of God’s word validated.

Revelation 21:6 a = Revelation 22:11-15, the revelation of God’s work completed.

Revelation 21:6 b,7 = Revelation 22:16-17, the revelation of God’s final blessing.

Revelation 21:8 = Revelation 22:18-19, the revelation of God’s final curse.

In the light of this very logical analysis, we must reject the view of Morris that, "John rounds off his book with a series of somewhat miscellaneous observations,"(F22) as well as the interpretation which sees, "Two descents of the city, the first in relation to eternity, the second in relation to the millennium.(F23) "It is therefore natural to assume with the vast majority of commentators that Revelation 21:9 to Revelation 22:5 supplies an extended exposition of that paragraph (Revelation 21:1-8).(F24)

One of the seven angels … "We should not overlook the fact that this angel is exactly the one who showed John the judgment of the great whore (Revelation 17:11)."(F25) It is probable that this truth, in some way, is important. "It may be that John wishes us to see that the servant of God does not choose his task, but must do whatever God sends him to do."(F26)

I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife … This word makes it mandatory to interpret the new Jerusalem as representing the glorified church of Christ.

Verse 10

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,

A mountain, great and high … John had needed no such vantage point as this for viewing the great whore (Revelation 17:3); but it was only from such a lofty pinnacle as this that he could behold the glory of the Lamb’s wife. "The heavenly city is to be described only from an exalted viewpoint, perhaps the high point of faith."(F27)

Coming down out of heaven from God … What an incredibly wonderful thought is this! That the church, which is made of ordinary mortals who came through the toils, struggles, temptations, and sorrows of life shall at last possess and exhibit the very glory of God himself — this indeed is the reward of the saints. "Till the dawn of eternity itself, this holy Jerusalem can never appear any other way than as ’coming down out of heaven from God’; for it owes its total existence to the condescension of God, and not to the works of men."(F28)

Verse 11

having the glory of God: her light was like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal:

A jasper … clear as crystal … See more on this stone under Revelation 4:3, above. "The jasper, which probably represents the modern diamond, is the characteristic of him who sat on the throne (Revelation 4:3)."(F29) Thus, the redeemed church will have the same appearance as that of the Lord himself.

Verse 12

having a wall great and high; having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:

A wall … gates … These coincide with the description of any city at the time when John lived. Walls and gates were for safety and security. See under Revelation 21:17, below. "In Ezekiel 38:11, Gog and Magog preyed upon the unwalled cities."(F30) Here, the vulnerability of those contrasts with the safety of this.

Having twelve gates … Certainly not too many, as the size of the city would place even these at a distance of 500 miles apart! Of all the outlandish notions ever advocated from the basis of these twelve gates, the most bizarre is that which concludes that, "A man can come by many roads into the kingdom, for there are as many ways to the stars as there are men to climb them."(F31) There are not many ways into the kingdom; Christ alone is the way (John 14:6); and it is the abuse of literalism to conclude otherwise on the basis of there being twelve gates mentioned here.

Twelve angels … Apparently this is an inert element in the vision, the gates of all ancient cities being presided over by some powerful representative of the central government.

And names … of the twelve tribes … of Israel … This shows "the continuity of the family of God in the New Covenant with that of the Old."(F32)

Verse 13

on the east were three gates; and on the north three gates; and on the south three gates; and on the west three gates.

East … north … south … west … The order of the mention of these is intriguing:

In Numbers 2:3 ff, the tribes are arranged in a square, the sides of which look ESWN, in Ezekiel NESW, in Revelation ENSW, a change that seems deliberate.(F33)

"Both John and Ezekiel seem deliberately to have avoided having the gates in the order observed in the astrology of the day."(F34)

Verse 14

And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Twelve foundations … "This is an obvious allusion to the theology of the church, which is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20)."(F35)

On them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb … "The apostles are mentioned here in their collective and official, not in their individual, character."(F36) It is pointless to ask if Matthew or Paul is included or left out. Just as "Roman terms `decemviri’ and `centumviri’ came to be official terms without regard to the precise numbers,"(F37) the term "apostles" came to be used in the same way.

Despite this, we still think it pertinent to ask if Peter’s name had 265 successors engraved after it.

Verse 15

And he that spake with me had for a measure a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof.

A golden reed to measure the city … "The intent of the measuring would seem to be to heighten the enormity, the symmetry and beauty of the holy city."(F38) It is interesting that although the gates are mentioned as going to be measured, their dimensions are never given. Only a "golden reed" was used here, whereas, a "reed like unto a rod" (Revelation 11:1) was used to measure the world city. That reed seems to have been an ordinary stick!

Verse 16

And the city lieth foursquare, 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.

Twelve thousand furlongs … "This is roughly fifteen hundred miles!" The astounding thing about this is that it is the height also, as well as the length and the breadth. See sermon on "Heaven" in chapter introduction.

And the city lieth foursquare … When the measurements are considered, it appears that the external shape of the city is that of a perfect regular hexahedron. From the standpoint of the length and breadth it lay "foursquare." "Both Plato and Aristotle refer to the fact that in Greece the good man was called foursquare."(F39) There might be the spiritual application that this is the city of the "good."

We believe, however, that it is the "bigness" of heaven that is symbolized by these dimensions; although, of course, they also show the symmetry, perfection, and completeness of God’s eternal designs as well. The view of scholars, generally, who follow this thought, usually resembles this from Hendriksen:

Twelve thousand is the product of three (for the trinity) times four (for the universe) times ten times ten times ten (for reduplicated, ultimate completeness and perfection). Hence this number expresses the complete and perfect result of the saving power of the Triune God operating in the universe.(F40)

For this writer, such numerological exercises raise more questions than they answer. We might also arrive at the number 12,000 by dividing 26 by two, subtracting two from the remainder, adding one, and multiplying by (30 x 30 + 100)! This is not intended to deny the mystical use of numbers by the Jews and others of antiquity, a usage that does appear extensively in the sacred Scriptures.

Many have also pointed out that this cubical shape of the city was like that of the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 6:20).

Verse 17

And he measured the wall thereof, a hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.

One hundred and forty and four cubits … The problem here is that a wall 266 feet high seems totally out of proportion for a city more than 30,000 times that high! Beckwith applied the dimension only to the thickness of the wall. "The height of it is included in the height of the city in Revelation 21:16."(F41) This, however, helps very little, because a wall of such thickness could not sustain itself at a height of 30,000 times its thickness, except in the event of the wall being a shield affixed to and part of the city itself. Perhaps that is the way we should view it, the fact of its being made of jasper (the diamond, which is the hardest of all material substances) adding some logic to such an interpretation.

According to the measure of a man … This just means that John was not referring here to any trick measurements.

Verse 18

And the building of the wall thereof was jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto pure glass.

Jasper … See under above verse. This is the appearance of the whole city (Revelation 21:11), again suggesting that the wall is a solid diamond 266 feet thick encompassing the entire city in all dimensions as a protective shield or armor-plate. At least, this interpretation of it gives effective imagery. In that case, it would not need to be any thicker than 266 feet.

Pure gold, like unto pure glass … The exceeding preciousness, beauty, purity, holiness, and glory of the city are indicated by this.

Verses 19-20

The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones. 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, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst.

These twelve precious stones making up the foundations of the wall are:

JASPER, usually thought to be the diamond.

SAPPHIRE, or "lapis lazula" (ASV margin).

CHALCEDONY, "a green silicate of copper found in mines near Chalcedon."(F42)

EMERALD, the same as our modern gem.

SARDONYX, "an onyx in which white was broken by layers of red and brown."(F43)

SARDIUS, The name of this was derived from Sardis; it was also called a carnelian. "It was blood red, and the commonest of all stones used for gems."(F44)

CHRYSOLITE, "Its Hebrew name means the Stone of Tarshish, described by Pliny as shining with a golden radiance."(F45)

BERYL, "a variety of emerald, though not as green."(F46)

TOPAZ, This was a stone of a greenish gold color, highly valued by the Hebrews.

CHRYSOPRASE, "the equivalent of our aquamarine, another variety of emerald."(F47)

JACINTH, the modern sapphire (ASV, margin).

AMETHYST, the same as the common amethyst today.

What can be the meaning of all these precious stones? Certainly, one of the legitimate meanings is that of the eternal beauty and value of the church of the living God; but there is another very curious and intriguing possibility. Charles pointed out that the twelve signs of the zodiac are represented by these same stones:(F48)

The Ram —- Amethyst

The Bull —- Hyacinth

The Twins —- Chrysoprase

The Crab —- Topaz

The Lion —- Beryl

The Virgin —- Chrysolite

The Balances —- Sardius

The Scorpion —- Sardonyx

The Archer —- Emerald

The Goat —- Chalcedon

Water-carrier —- Sapphire

The Fish —- Jasper

Now the original order of these, that given above, is the order in which the sun passes through the constellations indicated. The apostle John exactly reversed that order! "He is repudiating all heathen concepts; he is expressing the thought that in the end God reverses human judgments."(F49) This says in tones of thunder that there is absolutely nothing to astrology, a lesson that currently needs emphasis.

Verse 21

And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the several gates was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.

Twelve gates were twelve pearls … The gates of admittance are all one, as far as their character is concerned; one is not of lead, another of brass, etc. All who enter must meet the same requirements and enter by the gate of pearl, a symbol of the Christian’s "overcoming." See sermon on "Heaven" in chapter introduction.

And the street … was pure gold … It is said also that this was, as it were, "transparent glass." What kind of gold is that? Roberts thought that, "These symbols have no special significance";(F50) but it seems important that the very thing people worship on earth should at last have found its place under foot instead of upon the throne. "The street," as used here, does not mean that there was only one street. "The street here is not one street, but all streets."

Verse 22

And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple thereof.

No temple … All devices for communicating with God will be unnecessary in the glorified state. In a sense, the entire eternal city will be the dwelling place of God (Revelation 21:3). A very interesting fact revealed from the Dead Sea Scrolls is that, "A prominent Jewish sect rejected the established temple,"(F51) a position fully in harmony with the view we have taken of it throughout this series.

The Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb … These are the temple thereof. Christ is the only true temple of God that this earth ever saw; and it includes also his spiritual body the church. This is the temple which God promised David that "his seed" would build (2 Samuel 7:12-13).

Verse 23

And the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine upon it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb.

No need of sun … nor moon … Note the powerful emphasis upon the Lamb throughout. "The lamp thereof is the Lamb." "The Lamb is at the center of things throughout this book."(F52)

Verse 24

And the nations shall walk amidst the light thereof: and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it.

The nations shall walk amidst the light thereof … "These words deal with the present order."(F53) They are somewhat parenthetical in this vision of the eternal state. "The history of man has verified John’s prophecy, and its fulfillment continues till this day."(F54) Of course, "Many feel that the time referred to here is the millennium";(F55) but such views come of a failure to observe John’s method. In this great vision of the ultimate glory of the church, the apostle injected these words to show that some of the glories will also pertain to the church’s present existence. Upon the coronation of George VI of England, the magnificent folio published for the occasion praised the king and his dynasty as being "Among those kings who brought their glory into God’s kingdom." Their interpretation of this passage was correct, whether or not their application of it is allowed. At the post-resurrection time symbolized by this vision, "there are no literal kings remaining on earth,"(F56) any more than there are "dogs and sorcerers" on the outside trying to get in, as in 22:15. The words of this verse are both retrospective and prophetic.

Verse 25

And the gates thereof shall in no wise be shut by day (for there shall be no night there):

"The perpetually open gates symbolize perfect safety."(F57) "And there shall be no night there …" These precious words have been sung by the saints of all ages. Darkness is a time of danger, fear, and the works of darkness; but no such things shall any longer exist at the time foretold here.

Verse 26

and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it:

See under Revelation 21:24 for comment on the same thought expressed again here.

Verse 27

and there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that maketh an abomination and a lie: but only they that are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Ladd’s comment on this verse also illuminates Revelation 21:24; Revelation 21:26.

The flexibility of apocalyptic language allows John to use contemporary earthly idiom to describe future eschatological situations. Those who now are unclean and practice abominations or falsehood will have no access into the heavenly city.(F58)

The abominations spoken of here are probably the unspeakable perversions and sensualities practiced in the rites of heathendom; but, of course, they are not limited to that.

The chapter division here is capricious, for the next chapter is a continuation of exactly the same line of thought as here. The glory of the eternal state is the subject.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 21". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/revelation-21.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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