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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Revelation 21

Verses 1-99

The New Heaven and Earth. Chap. 21:1

1. a new heaven and a new earth ] Isaiah 65:17 , 66:22; referred to, as here, in 2 Peter 3:13 . It is idle to ask, what amount of change in the physical constitution of the universe is implied: the destruction of the earth, as a seat of life, and its renewal, would imply a complete change of the visible heavens. But a world “wherein dwelleth righteousness” would be a new world, even without any physical change at all.

there was no more sea ] More literally, the sea is no more . We cannot be sure that this is to be taken literally; we hear of a river in the next chapter, and a perennial stream implies an abundant reservoir of water somewhere. To us, the absence of sea seems, so to speak, a defect in the landscape, while to the ancients it seemed a pledge of security and of unfettered intercourse between all nations: see Isaiah 33:21 . Hor. Od. I. iii. 22.

The New Jerusalem, v. 2

2. And I John saw ] Read simply, and I saw .

new Jerusalem ] For the old Jerusalem, though we saw (20:9, and note) that it is to be again “a holy city” in the last days as of old, will have passed away with “the first earth.”

coming down from God out of heaven ] Transpose the two clauses, out of heaven from God . This is the New Jerusalem of which the earthly city is an imperfect copy; see on 4:6, 6:9 for the heavenly Temple. While this world lasts, this true Jerusalem is above (Galatians 4:26 ); and we only know its nature from the earthly copy of it, before Christ came, and the spiritual approach to it (Hebrews 12:22 ) since. But in the days here described, it will be realised on earth in all its perfection.

prepared ] The building and arrangements of the city serve the same purpose as the dress and ornaments of a bride. Cf. Isaiah 61:10 .

as a bride ] See 19:7, and notes thereon.

adorned &c.] Isaiah 61:10 .

A Voice from Heaven of Blessing and Judgement, vv. 3 8

3. out of heaven ] Read, out of the Throne ; cf. 19:5.

the tabernacle of God ] i.e. the Shechinah, the divine Presence, see on 7:15. So in the next words,

he will dwell with them ] Lit., have His tabernacle with them , the verb being the same as in St John’s Gospel 1:14; though the prepositions “among” and “with” are different.

his people ] The word is a plural: peoples , though used in modern English, at least as a Gallicism, is scarcely (see however 10:11, 17:15) admitted in the English of the A. V. It would not do to translate “His nations,” for in Hellenistic language, representing O. T. usage, “the nations” means Gentiles, and “the people” Israel. Here therefore the use of this word in the plural has a special significance: all nations shall be God’s people, in the sense that one nation only has been hitherto.

( and be ) their God ] There is considerable authority for the omission of this clause. If it be retained, it is a question of taste whether to insert the words in brackets, or to render “God Himself, their own God, shall be with them” something like Psalms 67:6 . There may be a reminiscence of the name Immanuel: there certainly is of Jeremiah 24:7 &c.; Ezekiel 11:20 &c.; Zechariah 8:8 , whether on St John’s part or only on that of his copyists.

4. God shall wipe ] Read simply, and shall wipe , or, and He shall wipe , according as it is thought necessary or not to begin a new sentence. The name of “God” is introduced from the parallel passage, 7:17: in Isaiah 25:8 the names used are those traditionally represented by “the Lord God.”

there shall be no more death ] More exactly, death shall be no more , having been destroyed in the Lake of Fire, 20:14: not that the personification is put forward here.

neither sorrow … any more pain ] Better, neither shall there be sorrow, nor crying, nor pain any more . See Isaiah 35:10 , Isaiah 51:11 , Isaiah 65:19 .

for the former things are passed away ] for should probably be omitted; and the word for “former” is literally, first .

5. And he that sat upon the throne said ] The first time that He speaks. The reference is rather to the eternal throne of 4:2 than to the judgement-throne of 20:11, so far as the two can be distinguished.

Behold, I make all things new ] Some O. T. parallels are alleged, e.g. Isaiah 43:19 ; Jeremiah 31:22 ; but really the only close parallel 2 Corinthians 5:17 ; and the meaning of this passage is, of course, even fuller than of that.

he said unto me ] Read only, he saith . It is doubtful whether the speaker is still “He that sat on the throne;” for a similar command to “write” has been given already, 14:13, 19:9; cf. 10:4 either by an impersonal “voice from heaven” or by the revealing angel. The question is best left open. The repetition of the words “He said unto me” in the next verse is a reason against ascribing all three speeches to Him that sat on the throne; the fresh mention of a revealing angel in v. 9 is perhaps a stronger one against supposing an angel to be speaking here; and the form of the words themselves against their referring to an impersonal voice.

Write: for ] Or perhaps, “Write, ‘These words are’ ” &c.: lit. that these words are ”.…

true and faithful ] Read, faithful and true , as at 3:14, 19:11, and still more exactly 22:6.

6. It is done ] We should read the plural: the word therefore is not an exact repetition of that in 16:17. If we ask, what is the subject to this verb, “ They are come into being,” perhaps the best answer is “all things.” The new universe of which the creating Word has just gone forth, has now been made, “and God sees that it is good.”

Alpha and Omega ] As in 1:8 (not 11), 22:13. Here, as in the former passage, it is God the Father that speaks.

of the fountain of the water of life ] See 7:17 and note, 22:1: also our Lord’s words in St John’s Gospel, 4:14, 7:38. The last quoted passage is, with a touching grotesqueness confounded with this in the Epistle describing the Martyrs of Gaul (Eus. H. E. v. i. 18).

freely ] i.e. not “abundantly,” but gratis: cf. Isaiah 55:1 .

7. He that overcometh ] Carries back our thoughts to the promises at the beginning of the book, 2:7, &c. There is perhaps some significance in the Father thus taking up and repeating the language of the Son. all things ] Read, these things ; viz. the new heavens and earth, and the things in them which, like them, have just “come into being.”

I will be … my son ] Lit. I will be to him a God, and he shall be to Me a son . The form of the promise therefore resembles 2 Samuel 7:14 , at least as closely as Jeremiah 24:7 , &c.: and the sense combines that of both. The finally victorious share in the privileges, not only of God’s people, but of the Only-begotten: see 3:21.

8. But the fearful ] The cowards would express the sense more accurately, at least in modern English. Those condemned are those who are afraid to do their duty, not those who do it, though timidly and in spite of the fears of nature: still less those who do it “with fear and trembling” in St Paul’s sense.

unbelieving ] It is, as usual, questionable whether this word or “unfaithful” expresses the sense most accurately. He who believes God’s Word is “faithful” to God: the character here condemned is the exact opposite.

abominable ] Lit. abominated ; probably alluding to crimes yet fouler than those named.

sorcerers ] Not the same word as that applied to Simon and Bar-jesus in the Acts, but cognate with that used above, 9:21, and rendered “witchcrafts” in Galatians 5:20 . The natural meaning of the word would rather be “poisoners;” and in fact in St John’s days the two generally went together, and no line could be drawn between them. It is therefore no wonder that both the Apostles speak of it as a real crime connected with murder and other “works of the flesh,” as well as with idolatry. For of course professed sorcery involved devil-worship, the basest idolatry of all, even if the devil had no more direct communication with the sorcerers than he has with all liars and impostors.

liars ] The word is a little more general, all the false .

shall have ] Lit. But to the fearful , &c. their portion [ shall be ] in the lake &c.

The Vision of the New Jerusalem, 21:9 22:5

The Measure of the City, vv. 9 17

9. And there came unto me &c.] As in 17:1. “unto me” should be omitted, so that the sentence as far as “vials” is verbatim the same as there. The identical form of introduction emphasizes the contrast between Babylon and Jerusalem, the harlot and the bride.

full ] According to the correct text, this word is made to agree not with “the seven bowls” but with “the seven angels.” But probably it is a merely accidental grammatical inaccuracy of St John’s. There is a much worse “false concord” in 14:19.

in the Spirit ] 17:3, 1:10. Cf. Ezekiel 3:14 .

to a great and high mountain ] Ezekiel 40:2 . The preposition rendered “to” plainly implies that St John was set on the mountain; whether the city occupied the mountain itself, or another site within view. In Ezek. l.c. the city apparently occupies the southern slope of the mountain, whence the seer views it.

that great city, the holy Jerusalem ] Read, the holy city Jerusalem .

descending … from God ] Verbatim the same as in v. 2, according to the true text. The descent described here is no doubt the same as there, but St John’s vision of the descent is not exactly the same. He has seen, as it were in the distance, the appearance of the city: but his attention was absorbed in listening to the sayings of vv. 3 8. Now, he is summoned to attend to the other, and finds it at the same stage where he noticed it in passing before.

11. Having the glory of God ] i.e. the visible cloud of glory (cf. Hebrews 9:5 ), the Shechinah of the divine Presence. See v. 23.

and her light ] Omit “and”. The word for light is peculiar it would properly be used of a star, as we say “luminary.”

a jasper stone ] See on 4:3.

clear as crystal ] Expressed by one word, and that strictly a participle, crystallizing . Are we to understand that the comparison is not with an ordinary jasper, but with a stone combining the pure and full colours of this with the crystalline structure of other more precious jewels?

12. and had ] Lit. having ; but there is a break in the construction, at least as marked as that given by the A. V.

a wall great and high ] Its exact height is stated in v. 17.

twelve gates … Israel ] So Ezekiel 48:31-34 . Probably the order of the names on the gates would be the same as there; but the order can hardly be pressed as important, since it is quite different from that of the foursquare encampment in the wilderness, Numbers 2:0 . The 12 gates of heaven in Enoch xxxiii xxxv. do not really present a very close parallel to these.

twelve angels ] As porters and sentinels. Such officers are in keeping with the image of a well-ordered city, though in fact neither they, nor walls and gates, are practically needed in this City of Peace.

13. east … north … south … west ] The order of enumeration in Numbers is E. S. W. N., in Ezekiel N. E. S. W. in Enoch N. W. S. E., as in each of them the surveyor goes round methodically in order: in this more ecstatic book, the whole is apprehended simultaneously, perhaps rather confusedly.

14. And the wall … twelve foundations ] Probably each of the twelve sections into which the wall is divided by the gates rests on an enormous jewel, reaching from gate to gate. This symbolises the solidity as well as the beauty of the divine structure: and was itself symbolised by the enormous size of the stones used in the foundations of the earthly temple. See St Mark 13:1 and parallels. Had is literally having , a solecism like that of v. 12.

twelve names of the twelve apostles ] Expressing the same doctrine as St Paul in Ephesians 2:20 , and (probably) our Lord in St Matthew 16:18 . It is absurd to suppose that there is any pointed insistance on the Apostles being only twelve, St Paul being excluded: to introduce thirteen or fourteen would have spoilt the symmetry characteristic of the whole vision. We might just as well say, that there ought to be thirteen gates for the thirteen tribes; counting Ephraim, Manasseh and Levi all as coordinate with the rest. Really, it is idle to ask whether the twelfth name was that of St Paul or St Matthias. St John does not notice his own name being written there, though of course it was (cf. St Luke 10:20 ); the Apostles are here mentioned in their collective and official, not in their individual character. (See on 5:5.)

of the Lamb ] His identity is taken for granted with the Jesus of the earthly ministry, as in 14:1 with the Son of God.

15. a golden reed ] So 11:1; this is more closely parallel to Ezekiel 40:3 , Ezekiel 40:5 . See also Zechariah 2:1 .

the gates ] As it happens, we are not actually told of their measurement.

16. he measured the city ] It is doubtful whether this is the measurement of the side of the square, or of the whole circumference. The twelve-fold measure is in favour of the former view: thus from each gate to the next would be 1000 furlongs; the outmost gate on each side being 500 from the angle.

with the reed ] He has not, as in the parallel passages of Ezekiel and Zechariah, a line for the long measurements (like our “chains” and “poles”).

twelve thousand furlongs ] The construction is peculiar, but the sense clear. The measure would be about 1378 English miles, making the City 344 miles square, according to the lower computation.

the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal ] It seems inconsistent with the pictorial vividness of this book, to imagine that the City is described as forming a cube of over 300 miles each way; and we are told in the next verse that the wall was of a great but not unimaginable or disproportionate height. Yet no other interpretation has been proposed that seems fairly reconcileable with the words; and passages are quoted from the Rabbis, that seem to prove that this notion, of Jerusalem being elevated to an enormous height, did commend itself to Jewish habits of thought. Would it be admissible to suppose that the City, which almost certainly lies on a mountain, forms not a cube but a pyramid? The height of it, equal to one side of the base, may then be conceived to be measured along the slope, either at the angle, or at the centre of one side: the conception of vertical height is rather too abstruse to be looked for, and it could not be measured with the reed. The vertical height would on one view be about 2121 stadia, or 243 miles: on the other, about 2598 stadia, or 298 miles.

17. he measured the wall ] We should naturally understand, the height of it. The walls of the historical Babylon are differently stated as having been 200, 300, or nearly 340 feet high. But we are told that they were about 80 feet in breadth (Hdt. I. 178:5: cf. Jeremiah 51:58 ): so if we do admit that the City here is conceived as 340 miles high, there is a sort of proportion in making its walls not less than 73 yards thick.

according to … the angel ] Rather, of an angel . Angels use, he means, a cubit of the same length as men viz. the average length of the forearm, from the elbow to the finger-tip. It is perhaps implied, that angels are not of superhuman stature.

The building foundations and street, vv. 18 21

18. And the building ] The word is a half-technical one, as it were “the superstructure,” as distinct from the foundations.

jasper ] See on 4:3.

the city was pure gold ] i.e. the houses included within the wall.

like … glass] This gold is transparent, not like the earthly: see note on ver. 11. The epithet of the glass is the same as that of the gold: both should be rendered pure .

19. garnished ] The same word that is rendered “adorned” in v. 2. From the next sentence we are to understand that they are adorned by being constructed of these stones, not that stones are fastened on merely for ornament.

precious stones ] See Isaiah 54:11 , Isaiah 54:12 ; where however there is less detail than here, and what there is is not quite the same: a warning against expecting too minute a symbolism in the details. It is true that contemporary superstition ascribed mystical meanings and magical virtues to the various stones, and it is possible that the revelation made to St John was given in terms of these beliefs, which he and his readers may have known of or even have held. But though not a priori incredible, this is hardly likely: these superstitions had, it seems, much less hold on the popular mind in St John’s day than some centuries later: and at all times they were too vague and too variable to give us a key to the interpretation. There may be a definite meaning in each of the stones named, but the general meaning of the whole is all that we can be sure of. As St Hildebert says,

Quis chalcedon, quis jacinthus,

Norunt illi qui sunt intus .

The first foundation ] The enumeration probably begins from one of the angles, and goes round the wall in order. It is useless to guess which Apostle’s name was on which stone, but it may be presumed that St Peter’s would be on the first. But in no two of the canonical lists of the Apostles are their names given in the same order; and, so far as there is any order among them, they are arranged in three groups of four, not, as is here required, in four groups of three.

jasper ] Like the superstructure of the wall, v. 18. But it can hardly be meant, that the Church is built more solidly on to St Peter than to any other of the Twelve.

sapphire ] The Greek and Hebrew words are (as with “jasper”) the same as the English. Yet it is almost certain that the stone so called in St John’s day was not our sapphire, but the far less precious lapis lazuli.

chalcedony ] Apparently not the stone now so called, but one closely resembling the emerald.

20. chrysolite … topaz ] According to the best authorities, the ancient application of these names was the reverse of the modern. Chrysolite ought, according to the etymology, to be a “golden stone,” while the modern chrysolite is green. Perhaps the ancient chrysolite included the modern jacinth as well as the true “Oriental topaz”.

chrysoprasus ] A variety of the beryl, of a more yellowish-green: probably that now called chrysolite.

jacinth ] Probably our sapphire, the “sapphire” above being lapis lazuli. The modern jacinth is a crystalline stone, usually red.

amethyst ] This, the emerald, sardius, and beryl are undoubtedly the stones now so called.

21. pearls ] Contrast Isaiah 54:12 , where they are carbuncles.

the street ] Or “square:” see on 11:8. The City has one great space in the midst of it, like an Agora or Forum: but the word Agora would have associations, commercial or political, that would be incongruous with the repose of this city. It is probably the pavement of the street which, like the walls of the houses, is of transparent gold.

The Temple, the Light, the Riches, and the Inhabitants of the City, vv. 22 27

22. And I saw no temple ] The New Jerusalem is on earth though on the new earth: this does not therefore prove that the heavenly temple of 11:19 &c. has ceased to exist. But He Who dwells from all eternity in that Temple will dwell to all eternity in the New Jerusalem; and will dwell there so manifestly, that there will be no need of an earthly figure of that Temple to symbolise His presence, or aid men to realise it.

the Lord God Almighty ] See on 1:8, 4:8.

and the Lamb are ] More accurately, the Lord God the Almighty is the Temple of it, and the Lamb . But the coupling of the Lamb with the Eternal is scarcely the less significant: see on 20:6.

23. no need of the sun &c.] Isaiah 60:19 . It is impossible to say whether it is here meant that the sun and moon do not shine, or only that the city is not dependent on them.

the light thereof ] The word is that commonly rendered candle or lamp . This makes it unlikely that the analogy is meant to be suggested, that the Lord God is the Sun of the city, and the Lamb the Moon.

24. of them which are saved ] Should be omitted. Notice that the new Jerusalem is not the only inhabited part of the new earth, but only its centre and capital, as the earthly Jerusalem was in chap. 20. It follows from 20:15, that all the dwellers in the new earth are those who were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life; but it does not appear who among them have the further privilege of citizenship in the Holy City. That there is such a further privilege, above the lot of all the Elect, has been already suggested by 7:4, 9, 14:1 5.

in the light ] Read, by or through the light .

and the kings of the earth &c.] Apparently, civic government is still needed, or at any rate still exists, among “the nations” of the regenerate earth. But probably this is only a part of the imagery: Jerusalem is conceived (as in Isaiah 45:14 , 49:23, 60:10, Isaiah 45:11 ) as an imperial city receiving the tribute of the world, simply because that was the form of world-wide sovereignty recognised and understood in the prophets’ times.

and honour ] Should be omitted: the words come in from v. 26.

25. And the gates &c.] Isaiah 60:11 . But the later prophet speaks of a further glory than the earlier: Isaiah recognises the succession of day and night, while St John sees that in that perpetual day the gates cannot need to be closed. In an earthly city they are not closed by day except in time of war; but even in perfect peace they are closed every night (cf. Nehemiah 13:19 ); here the daylight is as perpetual as the peace.

27. that defileth ] Read unclean , lit. common .

whatsoever worketh ] Read, he that worketh , or rather doeth .

the Lamb’s book of life ] So 13:8.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Revelation 21". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/revelation-21.html. 1896.