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Bible Commentaries

Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Revelation 21

Introduction

XIV

THE DISCLOSURE OF THE NEW HEAVEN AND THE NEW EARTH AND THE DESCENT OF THE NEW JERUSALEM

(Chapter 21)

(1) A preliminary vision of the new heaven and earth and of the new Jerusalem and the Tabernacle--21:1-7. Here the apocalypse had reached a natural climax, a fitting close of all that had been envisioned, by the description of the nature and blessedness of the new state. The enemies of Christ and his church had been judged; the dragon-beast who was Satan personified had been overthrown. The last and highest object of the apocalypse in the culmination of the visions was about to be reached in the fulfillment of the promise made to the seven churches at the beginning by Jesus Christ himself. The glory of God had been exalted over the heathen idols and the triumph of Christianity over heathen philosophy had been demonstrated. The wicked minions of the heathen world had been cast into the lake of oblivion, to their rightful diabolical abode--all of this, as a prelude to the description of the new heaven and earth and the new Jerusalem.

Verse 1

1. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea --21:1.

The new conditions of the earth and of the sea did not signify abolition of the old order of governments, nor the formation of new secular and political powers. The earth throughout the apocalypse referred to the place of the nations, with particular reference to Palestine; and the placid or tossed sea referred to the state of society; and the word heaven denoted the existing authorities of government. The new heaven and earth, and the trouble sea, having passed away and represented as being no more, indicated the changed conditions within the existing governments and society to make them favorable for the prosperity of the cause of Christ and his church throughout the empire. The old system of Judaism had been removed and the opposition of heathenism had been overcome ; and the vision represented new conditions to surround the church in the changed world.

The word new has various connotations. It may refer to that which has never been used; or to a thing of late date and recent origin; or to something novel and strange; or simply to something else, another possession, relation or state. In this context the evident meaning of the new earth was that the surroundings were prepared and made favorable for the expansion of the kingdom of Christ, made possible by the removal of Judaism, the Jewish theocracy and the Jewish state. The literal Jerusalem was no more.

The armies of Nero and Vespasian had laid waste the old Jerusalem and Judea; and on the rocks of the Aegean sea John envisioned the forward march of the church, the expansion of the kingdom of Christ, and the spread of the gospel to “the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

This phrase, new heaven and new earth, was not new in scripture terminology. The Old Testament prophets referred to Israel’s return from Babylon and their restoration to their own land of Judea as to them a “new heaven and new earth.” ( Isaiah 65: 17--66:22 ; Ezekiel 11: 19--36:26-36 ). To the Corinthians the apostle Paul described the new state in Christ as the old things having passed away --referring to the new spiritual relation to Christ in the new covenant versus the old fleshly Israelism of the old covenant. ( 2Co_5:17 ) To the scattered Jerusalem church the apostle Peter adapted that phrase in his exhortation to look for the heavenly reward in the eternal world. ( 2Pe_3:13 ) In the apocalypse the apostle John applied the same phrase to the emergence of the church from the tribulation period.

The figurative use of the sea has a natural connection. The creator has secured and fortified the natural world by the divisions of the earth, with the interposition of vast expanses of water as barriers to conquest. This barrier in society was figuratively removed for the conquest of Christ through the expansion of the gospel--there would no longer exist separating barriers between the people of the earth. Christianity without the restraint of heathen government would become universal, as the prophet declared: “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as waters cover the sea.” It is significant that this prophecy of Isaiah was uttered in the context of the eleventh chapter dealing with the prevalence of the gospel under the rule and reign of Christ; and it was quoted by Paul in his epistle to the Romans (chapter 15:12) as being fulfilled in that time.

The heavenly city, new Jerusalem, symbolic of the victorious church was visualized as having been withdrawn from the scene of the removal and destruction of the old Jerusalem; but now that the old order had passed away with the disappearance of its city and sanctuary; the church having survived annihilation, the new Jerusalem was seen as descending from heaven. The new earth represented the renovation of old conditions; and the vision that thereafter there should be no more sea meant no more such sea as that from which the beast had emerged. The vision meant that a new state had been wrought by the truth, by the word of the Conqueror whose name was The Word, by which sword all foes had been vanquished; and there was no more the tossed and troubled sea of tribulation.

Verse 2

2. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband- - -21:2.

The old Jerusalem, the harlot and the Babylon of Revelation had fallen--the Jerusalem of Judaism.

Here the Jerusalem of Gal_4:26 and Heb_12:22 were envision by the Seer as the bride of Christ. It was a vision of the fall of the old and the triumph of the new. The fact that this new Jerusalem was seen coming down from God out of heaven is the proof that it was not in reference to or descriptive of the eternal home; but rather that God was envisioned as presenting to the new earth what he had preserved from the tribulation of the old, “for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.”

In the period of persecution the vision was of the militant church passing through tribulation; but that scene was completed and here the vision was of the triumphant church coming out of tribulation into the victory of the cause of her Christ, the Conqueror of her enemies. The new Jerusalem was described as the beautified Woman, who had once fled into the wilderness as a persecuted church, but was now seen coming from God her Preserver wondrously clothed, resplendently attired, richly adorned, gloriously displayed--triumphantly descending out of heaven. The persecuted Woman had fled to “the place prepared of God” for her refuge, protection and preservation, but was here envisioned as having returned and in the ultimate descriptive phrases of victory and triumph she was presented to “the new heaven and the new earth” as the glorious Bride of the Lamb--the picture of the Conquering Christ and his Victorious Church.

The new dwelling place for the new Jerusalem had been renovated and purged from all heathen domination. The old Jerusalem with its old system of worship had been typical of the city of God; but its sanctuary was cleansed and it was to be no longer earthly, but heavenly; no longer temporal but spiritual. ( Heb_7:5 ; Heb_9:23 ; Heb_12:22 ) The new Jerusalem on a spiritually or figuratively renovated earth was seen as the heavenly community of the righteous for all nations of men. It was the vision of the pure church Bride descending from the high realm of holiness in contrast with the fallen harlot city.

Verse 3

3. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God -- 21:3.

This great voice was the voice of God and Christ in unison, united with the throng of chapter 19:1, and coming from one throne.

Here the fundamental truth that the Father and the Son are one found its expression. The kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of God are one kingdom ( Eph_5:5 ); the throne of God and the throne of Christ are one throne ( Heb_1:8 ); the church of God and the church of Christ are one church ( Act_20:28 ); and the great voice from the throne was the voice of God and the voice of Christ in one united sound.

The great voice announced that the tabernacle of God is with men. The use of the word tabernacle here was not ecclesiastical as of old. The word meant presence. This tabernacle of God was in contrast with the Jewish tent in the wilderness which was “a shadow of heavenly things.” ( Hebrews_8:1-13 :1-4 ) It was here used to signify God’s presence with men and that he would dwell in them through his church in the world. To take the church out of the world would be to take God out of it. The tent of the wilderness signified the presence of God with Israel and through it he dwelt in them. ( Exo_40:34-38 ) The church is the new tabernacle for his habitation ( Eph_2:22 ), and through it God dwells in men and they shall be his people --in contrast with the heathen gods--through their conversion by the truth from the darkness of heathenism to the light of Christianity. ( Act_26:16-18 ) The words of the voice, he will dwell with them, used the third personal pronoun he in the reference to God, which indicates that another was the speaker, and it represented the entire heavenly throng as in (chapter 19:1) joining in the proclamation--the voice “of much people in heaven,” envisioned as descending to their new inheritance of the new heaven and the new earth.

The old order of Judaism had disappeared; the way for the new Jerusalem had been cleared of the greatest obstacle in its path--Judaism; and the vision presented the new throng of citizens floating down from above with united voices bearing the testimony that the new heaven and the earth would be the dwelling place of God with men in the new Jerusalem, the church.

Verse 4

4. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away --21:4.

This passage was the fulfillment of the promise in chapter 7:14-17 which was vouchsafed by Christ himself that the faithful through tribulation would become recipients of the blessings signified in the symbolic phrases of these two texts. The same figures of speech are employed by Isaiah in the descriptions of the blessings that should come upon Israel when freed from exile and returned to their land. It could not reasonably be argued that the metaphors of no more weeping and crying in Isa_65:19 referred to heaven. Israel had been weeping with their harps hanging on the willows in Babylon; but upon return to their land the weeping and tears of exile would be wiped away. It was the same metaphorical representation in Rev_7:17 ; Rev_22:4 -- no more death referred to the martyrdom of the saints as in chapter 2: 10; neither sorrow nor crying referred to the sorrows of persecution; and neither any more pain was just another phrase for no more tribulation. The rider of the red horse of death had been conquered by the Rider of the white horse of deliverance from the scenes of tribulation, and these descriptions were in the continuity of the vision.

The mourning of Israel in exile was pictured as having been ended in the return to their own land in several references in the prophecies of Isaiah, examples of which are in chapters 35:10; 51:11 and 65:19. Here it was declared by the prophet that after the return from exile their sorrow and mourning should then flee away. The same application must be made of the death (martyrdom) and the sorrow, crying and pain (of the tribulation) in the continuing vision of Revelation which referred to the exclusion from their new heaven and new earth the experiences of the tribulation period. The threefold army and horsemen of the woes had been banished, defeated by the conquering Rider of the white horse; and in the same metaphors employed by the prophets to represent Israel’s deliverance from exile, the Seer of Revelation adapted that imagery to signify the deliverance of the spiritual Israel, the church, from the period of tribulation. It falls into the complete harmony with the Lord’s discourse in Mat_24:1-51 and with all of the visions of Revelation as a whole.

Verse 5

5. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are faithful and true. - -21:5.

He who sat on the throne gave this command which the angel communicated to John, and in a parenthetical phrase John referred to the original command given to him by Christ in chapter 1:19. The Seer was ready to do what he had been commanded to do at the beginning; and they were here attested to be faithful and true words; it was in the character of swearing to the truthfulness of what John was about to write, a form of an oath in affirmation of veracity. It was before the visions were received that the voice of chapter 1 had prompted John to record the things which would be heard and seen.

It was the same voice which had first commanded him to write which now was heard to say: Behold, I make all things new. This same expression has been used to distinguish spiritual Israel from fleshly Israel ( 2Co_5:17 ); and that phrase was employed here in distinction of the new heaven and new earth from the old system of Judaism.

With the fall of the old Jerusalem, the destruction of its theocracy, the termination of the Jewish state, and the removal of the last vestige of Judaism, a new order would prevail under new surroundings.

Verse 6

6. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely -- 21:6.

With the proclamation it is done the vision proper concerning the church in tribulation had ended, and the Revelation had ended, and the Revelation was ready to assume the new aspect of the church in the glory of victory rather than in the defeat of persecution. God and Christ are the Alpha and Omega because they are the beginning and the end in creation and in salvation, and here in the promises made to the churches, in faithfulness to finish what had begun. It meant that the vision was completed and the things envisioned would be fulfilled. When God said in the beginning, Let there be light--there was light; and of everything that God said in creation, it was done. The accomplishment of the things envisioned in the apocalypse rested upon the eternal being of God and Christ whose “word is true from the beginning and whose righteous judgments endureth forever” ( Psa_119:160 ); and the voice which John heard represented it all as having been done--God’s word was sure.

The inducement offered to all to drink from the fountain of the water of life freely was the gospel invitation, to all the thirsty people under the blight of heathenism in the land, to come to the fountain of the living waters Christianity-- there was unrestrained liberty to preach salvation and unhindered access to its blessings to all men. It was a restatement and a reproclamation of the Saviour’s precious invitation: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me . . . for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ( Mat_11:28-30 ) The word yoke signified government, and the Lord’s words were chosen for the comparison of his righteous rule in the hearts of men with the tyrannical rule of the Caesars; and of his power to save men from sin with the dark and despairing hopelessness of heathenism. This vision of the new Jerusalem in the new world of liberation from the evil powers was the offer of gospel blessings to the whole world.

Verse 7

7. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my Song of Solomon--21:7 .

The expression “he that overcometh” was employed here the first time since the repeated use of the phrase in the letters to the seven churches, which is a plain indication that the reference was to that period and to the events that belonged to it. The term inherit imports the thought of the privileges of citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem; and to inherit all things was inclusive of that which had been described in preceding verses and the implied in the following words:

And I will be his God, and he shall be my son. Here was an allusion to the promises of Samuel to David ( 2Sa_7:14 ), concerning the Davidic throne, which were quoted by Paul ( Heb_1:5 ) as having been fulfilled in Christ. The old Davidic order of Judaism had ended, and this promise had a new significance; the old tabernacle of David that had fallen down ( Act_15:13-17 ) was rebuilt in the church which it had typified, and all of the spiritual blessings included in “the sure mercies of David” ( Act_13:33-34 ) were available in the new tabernacle. Therefore, all who had “overcome” the tribulations were entering anew into all of the promises of the New Jerusalem, theretofore hindered by the rival opposition of Judaism; but that hindrance having been removed, the full and free blessings flowing from “the fountain of the water of life” (verse 6) would be the unmingled spiritual inheritance of the overcomers.

Verse 8

(2) The characters cast into the brimstone lake-- 21:8.

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and the whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death --verse 8.

Here was the pronouncement of doom on all classes of the persecutors and all parties and accomplices to the persecutions, implying also a warning to any among the overcomers against falling into any of this catalog of things condemned.

1. The fearful were those who shrank from the conflict who were put here in contrast with the overcomers.

2. The unbelievers were not those who were apostates from Christ, but the dwellers of the earth (Palestine) in the heathen world hostile to Christ; and who in their perverse refusal to accept Christianity remained under condemnation.

3. The abominable were the characters who practiced the defilements of the heathen world and the harlot woman (17:4).

4. The murderers were the ones who had killed the prophets and had slain the saints ( Mat_23:31-36 ; Act_7:52 ); and who were guilty of the blood of the martyrs who were in this vision avenged.

5. The fornicators (whoremongers) were figurative of all who were affiliated with the practices of the harlot woman which had been described.

6. The sorcerers and idolaters were terms figurative of heathen practices and worship.

7. The phrase all liars included all of the deceivers and means of deception which influenced the people of the earth (Palestine) to worship the Caesar-image, or to yield to any form of heathen philosophy that would prevent the acceptance of Christ.

It is said that all of these classes of promoters of evil practices would be cast into the brimstone lake. This lake which burneth with fire and brimstone signified the complete destruction of the heathen powers that had persecuted Christ and his church. (See comments on chapter 19:20; 20:10)

This would be the part, or the portion, of all the unbelievers. The explanations here and in chapter 19:20 and chapter 20: 10 do not deny, destroy or modify the resurrection and judgment of the wicked at the second coming of Christ, nor of the eternal punishment of the wicked, which doctrines are clearly taught in numerous portions of the scriptures of both the old and the new testaments. The purpose of the comments here is merely to place these apocalyptic passages in proper contextual perspective and relation to the symbolism of the Book Of Revelation and its message. In this context the second death was a figurative description of the punishment of the persecutors in contrast with the deaths of the martyrs of the first resurrection. All these would have part in this second death in suffering the same destruction. The ones who had part in it came to the same end as the persecuting beast--a figurative description of complete destruction and annihilation of all persecuting powers opposed to the church whose opposition was crushed.

Verse 9

(3) The description of the massive dimensions of the great city, the holy new Jerusalem--21:9-17.

The original designation for Jerusalem was the name Salem, mentioned Psa_76:2 , and it meant the possession of peace, or the inheritance of peace. It was the most important city of biblical history, and the most sacred and the most desecrated of the whole world. The Psalmist of Israel sang its praises; but Christ the Saviour wept tears of sorrow over its apostasies, unfaithfulness and approaching desolation. ( Mat_23:37-38 )

The Jerusalem of the time of Christ and the apostles and people of the New Testament lies buried beneath the ruins of the succeeding centuries; and the Jerusalem which was the city of David is buried far deeper below the surface of modern Jerusalem. In the fifteen centuries of its existence from its first appearance in Old Testament history until its destruction in A. D. 70 it had been besieged some fifteen or twenty times, was twice razed and burned, and twice its walls were crumbled by enemy attacks. There is not the slightest feature remaining today of its ancient glory.

Under Solomon the city of David attained its highest fame and greatest grandeur, as the result of the wise king’s accomplishments of the building of the magnificent temple and royal palace, and the extension and strengthening of its massive walls. With a vast army of skilled craftsmen the enormous workmanship that entered into its erection was completed, and the venerated temple with its splendorous sanctuary was dedicated within seven and one-half years. This was in wide contrast with the gradual work on Herod's temple, standing in the time of Christ, which required “forty and six years” to complete. ( Joh_2:20 ) It was in king Solomon’s reign, due to these accomplishments, that Jerusalem became the one central place of all the world for the true worship of God. It was the Mecca of the Jews, the holy city, and whether near or far, at home or in foreign land, the devoted Jew prayed with his face toward Jerusalem.

Captured by the Roman Pompey in B. C. 63, the land of the Jews was again subjugated and became a province of the Caesars. Approximately twenty years later, B. C. 40, the city fell to the Parthians, under Antigonus; but only one year later Herod the Great laid siege to the city, and supported by the Roman army the citadel and the temple were recaptured by storm; and Herod was afterward made king of Judea by the Romans. He at once improved and beautified the city, and initiated the enlargement and refurbishing of the temple without and within, requiring the period of forty-six years as mentioned in the gospel record of John. Under the rule of Herod the restoration of Jerusalem and the temple approximated their ancient magnificence.

The Jerusalem of the New Testament times stood with all the imposing grandeur and strength to which it had been brought by Herod through nearly a half-century of workmanship, with all of its multiple walls and structures. It was after the death of Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, that the province of Judea was again ruled by oppressive provincial Roman procurators, and Jerusalem became the ground for the scenes of discontent, violent insurrections and political rebellion. It is no wonder that her apostasies and abominations should become the object of the Patmos visions to signify the Harlot; and it is not strange that the once holy city should be the type of the New Jerusalem, the Bride and church of Christ the Lamb.

With this excursion we return to the apocalyptic description of the Great City, the Holy New Jerusalem, which begins with verse nine of chapter twenty-one.

This vision of the Holy City was in contrast with the vision of Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth of chapter seventeen. There one of the angels of judgment showed John the Harlot City (the old Jerusalem) which had become the mother of the abominations of the earth (Palestine) by her many apostasies; as lamented by Jesus Christ himself in the twenty-third and the twenty-fourth chapters of Matthew.

In the vision of chapter twenty-one, now under consideration, the same angels showed John the Holy City. They were hitherto the executioners of divine wrath and judgment; but here they were the administrators of divine love and reward. In comparison, the angels in the two chapters (17 and 21) used the same identification in the language describing their functions, but for a different mission. In chapters seventeen to nineteen these angels were on the mission of pronouncing judgment upon the Harlot Woman; but in chapter twenty-one the mission of the same angels was to exhibit the Holy City, the Bride.

It was appropriate that the angels pronouncing the doom on the old Jerusalem of Judaism should also announce the blessings of triumph awaiting the New Jerusalem Bride. The chapter is a continuation of the vial-angel visions, culminating in the glorious success of the church in the heathen world.

1. Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife -- 21:9. This beckoning of the angel is another proof, among the many others in the contexts of these chapters, that the descriptions of the holy city were not visions of heaven the home of the soul, but of the glorious church of Christ, designated the bride and the wife of the Lamb, redeemed from tribulation, but yet to fulfill her divine mission on the earth.

Verse 10

2. And he carried me away in the spirit unto a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God-- 21:10.

The phrase in the spirit here is the same expression as that used in chapter 1:10 and it did not refer to the Holy Spirit in either of the passages, but rather indicated the visional rapture in which John was shown these things. It was in the spirit--his own spirit--that he was carried away to the place where these things were unfolded to him in vision.

The visional point to which he was carried was a great and high mountain. This apocalyptic panorama was a part of the imagery of the exaltation of the Jerusalem Bride. The same metaphorical language was used by Isaiah in a prophetic description of the pre-eminence of the church in its spiritual elevation above the level of all institutions of men. “The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.” ( Isa_2:2 ) In the same figurative character and language, John was carried in spirit to the mountain. It was not a mere mountain upon which the church was to be established in Isaiah’s prophecy, but in the top of the mountains; and it is altogether fitting that John should be transported in spirit to a great and high mountain to be shown the grandeur and glory of the triumphant church.

From this eminent visional peak John saw the holy Jerusalem descending. It was designated the holy Jerusalem in contrast with the harlot Jerusalem. No greater or more impressive attributive title could have been ascribed to the Bride of Christ than that of the Holy City Jerusalem.

In this vision of elevation the entranced Seer saw that great city descending--it had not already descended, the events were yet in process, but the end was in sight. It was about to be the culmination of the entire apocalypse.

The Holy City was descending out of heaven from God-- that is, the visional emergence of the Woman from that place prepared of God mentioned in chapter 12:6, and compared with Mat_24:16 in the comments in chapter twelve on these two related passages. The holy city, the church, was seen descending from God --that is, from the place prepared of God where God had protected her and preserved her in that period of tribulation. Upon the lofty mountain height, from a position where the Seer could descry the distant descent of the marvellous City, as if to discover by the eye an object at far focus and observe its approach, this vision of the New Jerusalem was unfolded to the revelator.

Verse 11

3. Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal --21:11.

The attribute of glory here ascribed to the holy church in descent was an allusion to the cloud of glory that covered and filled the tabernacle at its completion-- the Shekinah, that divine manifestation through which God’s presence was made known. The light of the City was like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. In chapter 4:3 the One on the throne had this appearance of crystal jasper; so the vision here is that the Holy City represented the resplendent glory of God Himself, as Paul affirmed of the church in Eph_3:21 : “Unto him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ throughout all ages, world without end.”

The force of this descriptive attribute of the Holy City was the ultimate in glory and grandeur. The ancient crystal jasper was pellucid in its transparency and diaphonous in its translucency. As the sun is the luminary of the heavens, the glory of God Himself illumined this descending Holy City, the New Jerusalem church, with the divine effulgence of his presence.

Verses 12-14

4. And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. . . . And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb-- 21:12-14.

The great wall of this vision was symbolic of security, and represented the protection from all the foes by which the church has been assailed; and which had assured them of the complete victory that was here envisioned. The massive walls with the huge gates were necessary to the ancient cities. Upon the outer wall of ancient Babylon three horsedrawn chariots could drive abreast; in the walls were twenty-five great brass gates; and upon the walls were two hundred fifty gigantic towers for the guard of watchmen.

Jerusalem had twelve gates in its wall, with the gateman at each station, and the watchmen in its towers. In this mountain-top vision the wall of the Great City had twelve gates; and at these gates twelve angels at guard. It was the symbol of the continued success of the cause of Christ, the security from all past hazards of persecution, and the freedom from the assaults from the dragon-beast as the personification of Satan in the imperial persecutors.

The word gates has been rendered portals, which in the singular means the door of a gate; or in the plural, the portal of a city. The numeral twelve as applied here, and in Mat_19:28 to the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles, represented completeness, the whole church, joining the old and the new in type and antitype. The twelve gates and the twelve foundations, bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of the Lamb, were the emblems of God’s people as a whole in the old and new testaments. It symbolized the full and complete plan of God envisioned in the perfection of the church as the product of all divine revelation through the prophets of Israel and the apostles of Christ.

The vision further described the City as having three gates on each side--twelve gates. The eye-witness historian, Josephus, described the old Jerusalem as having three gates on four sides (B J 5, 4, 2). The vision taken together with the twelve foundations bearing the tribal and apostolic names represented, as previously explained, the two economies of the old and the new testaments having been completed in the church as the whole people of God, which fulfilled the purpose of God in the redemption of mankind, brought together in the figure of the one new man ( Eph_2:14-16 )--the church. The New Jerusalem with its twelve walls and twelve gates and twelve foundations was here envisioned as the embodiment of the divine unity of all revelation. The teaching of the twelve apostles uphold and support the church, which in the vision was so guarded by the twelve angels as to keep it aware of all error and that the forces of the hadean world could never prevail against it.

Verse 15

5. And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof-- 21:15.

The measuring rod in the hand of the angel was a reed of gold, which was symbolic of the divinity of that which was to be measured--the city was divine. The city had perfect quadrangular dimensions--it was foursquare.

Verse 16

The word “foursquare” was a Greek term used to denote perfection in any form. The immensity of the Holy City was signified by the mathematical figure of twelve thousand furlongs, or approximately fifteen hundred cubic miles, expressed in the words of the text: The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. It has been calculated that the measure of the twelve thousand furlongs in English miles computed 1378.97 exact English miles-- the figure having been reckoned by a biblical commentator of England. Whether exactly or approximately it was the symbolism, first of the spiritual perfection of the church and, second, of its universality--that it was destined to fill the whole earth. The prophet declared ( Isa_11:9 ) that the knowledge of God would cover the earth; and Jesus said in the beatitudes ( Mat_5:5 ) that his disciples would inherit the earth--that is, fill the whole earth with his teaching. That has ever been and shall ever be the mission of his church, and that purpose was symbolized in the descriptions of the New Jerusalem.

Verse 17

The measurement of the wall of the Holy City was said, in verse 17, to be according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel. The stadia of the angel was “after the manner of a man”--no different from that of a man and within human understanding, though it was of the angel. The angel had used man’s standard of measurement, but it was symbolically, not literally, applied. It meant that the stadia employed by the angel was on a scale of measurement that was not unknown to man. The literal view of these measurements as being descriptive of the exact plan and size of the New Jerusalem as a city would destroy the sublimity of the apocalyptic picture and pervert the symbolism of the vision. In the comparison of the dimensions of the city and the wall surrounding it, the vision represented that the eminences within the wall of the New Jerusalem were so lofty that its highest summits and pinnacles were as many furlongs above the base of the wall as the length of the wall itself. The vision was symbolical of great and grand magnificence. To the eye of John from the summit ranges, floating down from God, was a view of splendor the magnitude of which was indescribable. But the figurative description, “according to the measure of a man,” was not grotesque or disproportioned. God was the architect and builder of the Holy City ( Psa_12:1-8’7:1); which was the manifestation of his divine wisdom, as a building exhibits the skill of its designer ( Eph_3:10-11 ; Eph_3:21 ); and in it his own glory will be exhibited through time and in eternity “world without end.” In the symbolism of the New Jerusalem’s dimensions was signified that it is the will of God that the church should include the whole multitude of the saved--its entire aggregation.

Verses 18-21

(4) The indescribable grandeur and magnificence of the new Jerusalem--21:18-21.

It would be impractical, if not entirely futile and frustrating, to attempt a descriptive application of each precious stone which decorated the Holy City. There is no singular meaning or definition that can be imparted to these jewels of adornment, but altogether the enumeration of all existing precious stones presented a vision so exquisite in the extreme as to exceed all human imagination or contemplation.

The sublime apocalypse portrayed the New Jerusalem as being the church of the firstborn ones ( Heb_12:22-23 ), the citizens of which have their names inscribed in the registry of heaven. Its citizenry consisted in a kind of firstfruits of all of God’s creatures ( Jam_1:18 )--they are his choice creation. Its structure was itself constructed of pure gold; its streetway, or passage system, was the same as of the city--of solid gold, and transparent. The expression pure gold means unalloyed, without the comparative carats in weight or measure or degree of content; but in purity no mixture or alloy. The eye of man has discovered and discerned pure gold, but no man has ever seen transparent gold, a description that adds visional resplendence to the delineations.

The portals of the City were composed of pure pearls, each gate consisting of one solid pearl; and its twelve foundations were garnished with twelve rare jewels of glistening beauty, which in the order from one to twelve were: jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, an emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprasus, jacinth and an amethyst. With vast clusters of edifices within the high wall the super-structure of the City was embellished by whatever materials were known to man to be the most estimable and resplendent of earth’s treasures--and these all were adapted to enhance the glorious majesty of the New Jerusalem, the Lamb’s Bride--the church of Christ.

Verse 22

(5) The constituent spiritual characteristics of the glorious new Jerusalem--21:22-27.

According to Webster the word constituent is indicative of elements that form, or compose, or make up an existing thing; and characteristic is defined as distinctive, or serving to constitute the character of anything. On the high mountain outlook the vision not only exhibited to John the outward glories of the Holy City but displayed also the inward spiritual peculiarities of the City of the Lamb. In it there was no temple (verse 22), for there was no veil between God and the Redeemed, as in the temple that had been taken away ( Mat_27:51 ); and because the church itself is the temple of God. ( Eph_2:21 ; Rev_7:15 ) The old temple had been a type of the new, and there was no place in the vision for a symbol of that which had passed away.

Verse 23

And there was no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it (verse 23), for God was the light and Christ was the lamp of the New Jerusalem, which had emerged from the darkness of tribulation into the light of deliverance and redemption. Here the same figure was utilized that was used by the prophet in a similar description of Israel’s return from the Babylonian exile: “The sun shall no more be thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. The sun shall no more go down; neither shall the moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended”-- Isa_60:19-20 .

Even the casual reader, if not biased by a continuous-history theory, can discern the similarity between these passages and the Revelation descriptions. The prophet Isaiah foretold the deliverance of Israel from exile nearly two hundred years before its occurrence, and he adapted the same figures to describe their restoration to their land that the Seer of Revelation applied to the emergence of the church from the tribulation period.

As of restored Israel in their own land again, so of the New Jerusalem- -the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. These are the figures for the source of all spiritual knowledge and illumination in the City of the Lamb; there can be no alternation of light and darkness; no mixture of truth and error; for God is the source of the light of truth reflected through Christ in the church. The apostle of the Hebrew epistle (chapter 1:3) affirmed this vital truth in the reference to this Father and Son relation: “Who being the brightness (effulgence) of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” It was this presence of God and of Christ in the New Jerusalem that would be its sun, its moon and its light.

In the order of both prophecy and apocalypse the old temple had been destroyed, and its furnishings were no longer recognized. The new temple, the church itself, had no such temporal structure and physical adornment as that which had featured the old; for the old rites were gone with the old city and its temple which had passed away-- and Holy City, the New Jerusalem, which represented the church of the Lamb, was spiritual only and was the new “habitation of God through the Spirit” ( Eph_2:22 ).

Verse 24

This spiritual light of the Holy City would extend to the whole world of darkness: the nations of them that are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it-- 21:24. This part of the vision represented the saved as having come from all nations, that the Jew and Gentile together should walk in the light of the gospel.

The language has its counterpart in the descriptions of Isaiah (chapters 2:2-5; and 62:1-2) which were the prophecies of the new Jerusalem of the new covenant which would include all nations. The prophet said: “0 house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.” This prophecy was made by Isaiah in connection with the establishment of the new institution on the top of the mountains, and the promulgation of the new law from Jerusalem. It is the same imagery in chapter 21:4 of this vision: “And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it.” In the prophecy of Isa_62:1-4 , the prophet declared that “the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory.” And in this vision the Seer said: “And the kings of the earth do bring glory and honor into it.” It was the vision of all nations yielding to the influence of the gospel, as if the kings of the nations had brought the glory of their crowns and scepters and treasures into the kingdom of God and of Christ by the conversion of the people of the whole world. The vision here is the extension of chapter 11:15: The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ. All of these verses and visions referred to the universal expansion of Christianity in the spread of the gospel over all the world.

Verses 25-26

In verses twenty-five and twenty-six the vision represented the gates of city as being always open: for there shall be no night there. The gates of the ancient cities were closed at night, and there was no admission to strangers without the city. But the gates of New Jerusalem should not be shut at all by day, therefore entrance to the city was always accessible. The vision was based on the destruction of the beasts of persecution which had been cast into the brimstone lake, and there were no enemies remaining to threaten the citizenry of the city. In the period of persecution the church had been hindered in the propagation and the proclamation of the gospel, but the night of tribulation had ended. The figure was related to the motion of the globe in orbit; its diurnal revolution causes the daily and annual changes in the sun which produce the alternation of light and darkness. But spiritually there would be no such rotation, for the night of the tribulation had come to end; there was no longer the hindering power of the heathen persecutors in the spreading of the light of the gospel--the darkness had been dispelled and the day had dawned for the church. It can be seen again that the literal application of these figures of speech would demolish the beauty of the vision as well as its truth in the spiritual application of the symbols.

In the twenty-sixth verse the Seer saw the Gentile world entering into the church through its open gates under the world-wide commission: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations; and, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. ( Mat_28:19 ; Mar_16:15 ) And the stipulated terms upon which men of all nations should enter into the spiritual refuge of the city of the Lamb are included in the commands of the commission itself: He that believeth (the gospel) and is baptized shall be saved; and, Baptizing them in (into) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Spirit).

The vision represented the inclusion of the nations among the blessed saved in the church. The glory and honor of the nations, of verse twenty-six, as in verse twenty-four, referred to the conversion and Christianization of the heathen world. The fact that the vision represented that these kings would still be kings is yet another indication that it was not a vision of heaven. It meant that the heathen would find their way out of the darkness of paganism into the light of Christianity under the sway of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The New Jerusalem would co-exist with the nations as “all nations flow unto it”; and accept Him who came to fulfill “the desire of all nations” ( Hag_2:7 ) for the glory of God. The kings of the earth contributed to His glory in the conversion of the people of their nations to the Christ of this apocalypse.

Verse 27

The pristine purity of the church of the Lamb was pictured in verse twenty-seven of the chapter: And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

These terms and phrases and words describe the whole category of the moral and spiritual corruption of heathendom. The first chapter of Romans is an inspired commentary on the depths of degradation into which the heathen world had sunken by these practices because, said Paul, “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.” But these impurities of heathenism could gain no admission or entrance into the realm of the Lamb’s Bride. The defiled could not enter, because the gospel removed all moral defilement. The paganistic abominations could not enter, for the gospel separated from all heathen idolatry. The deceivers who by making a lie had seduced the inhabitants of the earth into emperor-worship could not enter, for the gospel destroyed the doctrines of antichrist. Wherefore, only they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life-- whose names were entered into the registry of the New Jerusalem by “doing his commandments” could “enter in through the gates into the city.”

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Bibliographical Information
Wallace, Foy E. "Commentary on Revelation 21". "Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/foy/revelation-21.html. 1966.