Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Revelation 21

Verses 1-5

CH. Revelation 21:1 to Revelation 22:5.] The new heavens and new earth: the glories of the heavenly Jerusalem. The whole of the things described in the remaining portion of the book are subsequent to the general judgment, and descriptive of the consummation of the triumph and bliss of Christ’s people with Him in the eternal kingdom of God. This eternal kingdom is situated on the purified and renewed earth, become the blessed habitation of God with his glorified people. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first (i. e. old, see ref.) heaven and the first earth were departed: and the sea exists no longer (see on the whole, Isaiah 65:17. The vision does not necessarily suppose the annihilation of the old creation, but only its passing away as to its outward and recognizable form, and renewal to a fresh and more glorious one. And though not here stated on the surface, it is evident that the method of renewal is that described in 2 Peter 3:10 ff.; viz. a renovation by fire. This alone will account for the unexpected and interesting feature here introduced, viz. that the sea exists no longer. For this the words mean (see Revelation 21:4), and not as Düsterd., that the (former) sea, as well as the former heaven and earth, had passed away). And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem (see especially ref. Gal., ἄνω ἱερους., and note), coming down out of heaven from God (Schöttg. quotes from the remarkable Jewish book Sohar, Gen. f. 69, c. 271, “R. Jeremias dixit, Deus S. B. innovabit mundum suum, et ædificabit Hierosolymam, ut ipsam descendere faciat in medium sui de cœlo, ita ut nunquam destruatur.” See Schöttg.’s dissertation “de Hierosolyma cœlesti,” in his vol. i. 1205 ff.), prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (as in our common discourse, so here with the Evangelist, the name of the material city stands for the community formed by its inhabitants. But it does not follow in his case, any more than in ours, that both material city and inhabitants have not a veritable existence: nor can we say that the glorious description of it, presently to follow, applies only to them. On the figure, see Isaiah 61:10 to Isaiah 62:5). And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle (i. e. dwelling: the allusion being to the tabernacle in the wilderness, in which God dwelt in symbol only) of God is with men, and He shall dwell (tabernacle) with them, and they shall be his people (plur., because, as in Revelation 21:24, many nations shall now partake in the blessed fulfilment of the promise), and He shall be God with them (the name Emmanuel, μεθʼ ἡμῶν ὁ θεός, first then being realized in its full significance), their God (so the ancient promises are fulfilled, Exodus 29:45; Leviticus 26:11; Ezekiel 37:27): and [God] shall wipe away every tear from their eyes (reff.): and death shall exist no longer (ch. Revelation 20:14), and (Gr. nor) mourning (Isaiah 65:19) and (nor) crying and (nor) pain shall exist no longer: [because] the first (former state of) things are passed away. And He that sitteth on the throne (see note, ch. Revelation 20:11) said, Behold, I make all things new. And he (probably the angel, or voice from heaven, that gave the Seer similar commands before, ch. Revelation 14:13, Revelation 19:9. This seems probable on account of the change to the formula λέγει, as well as from the nature of the command: for we have εἶπέν μοι resumed immediately with the ἐγώ, leaving no doubt Who speaks) saith, Write: because these words are faithful and true. And He said to me (viz. ὁ καθήμενος ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου), [They are fulfilled (viz. οὗτοι οἱ λόγοι: or, but I prefer the other, πάντα).] I am (or, excluding the portions in brackets, I have become) the Alpha and the Omega (see above, ch. Revelation 1:8), the beginning and the end (“the Unchangeable and Everlasting One, by Whom the old was and the new shall be, by Whom the old is fulfilled in the new, and with it all hope and all promise.” De Wette). I to him that thirsteth will give [to him] of the fountain of the water of life freely (cf. ch. Revelation 7:17, and reff. Isa. and John: cf. also Matthew 5:6). He that conquereth shall inherit these things (the glories to be shewn in the heavenly Jerusalem), and I will be to him (a) God, and he shall be to me a son (this will be the full performance to the sons of God of the promise in ref. 2 Kings: which being first made to Solomon, received its chief fulfilment in the great Son of David and of God (ref. Heb.), and now in Him to them that are His). But to the cowardly (the contrast to νικῶντες: the ὑποστελλόμενοι of Hebrews 10:38; those who shrink timidly from the conflict), and the unbelievers, and the polluted with abominations (those who have partaken of the βδελύγματα in ch. Revelation 17:4,—of idolatries, &c.), and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers (the form φαρμακός, found only in ref. in the N. T., is the common one in the LXX. See besides ref. and other places in Exodus, Deuteronomy 18:11; Daniel 2:2; Malachi 3:5. The form φαρμακεύς does not occur in the LXX), and idolaters, and all the false (i. e. all liars), their part (the construction is changed: instead of οὐκ ἔσται μέρος ἐν κ. τ. λ., it proceeds in the affirmative, implying that negative and expressing more) (shall be) in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (reff.).

Verses 9-22

9–22:5.] More particular description of the heavenly Jerusalem. And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, which (namely the angels, however strange it may seem) were full of the seven last plagues (one of these angels had before shewn the Apostle the great harlot, ch. Revelation 17:1. The contrast to that vision is maintained throughout these opening verses), and he talked with me, saying, Hither, I will shew thee (hitherto verbatim as in ch. Revelation 17:1) the bride, the wife of the Lamb (here likewise note the contrast to the succeeding context in ch. Revelation 17:1,—in the faithfulness and purity implied in these words). And he carried me away in the spirit (ch. Revelation 17:3) to ( ἐπί, as we say in some parts of England, on to, combining motion towards and position upon) a mountain great and high (so likewise when the vision of the heavenly city is vouchsafed to Ezekiel, Ezekiel 40:1-2), and shewed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (this vision had begun in Revelation 21:2, but the Apostle is now carried to this “specular mount” to have a nearer and fuller view of it. The city must not be conceived of as on or covering the mountain, but as seen descending to a spot close by it: so in Ezekiel 40:2, whether we read “by” or “upon” as in our margin), having the glory of God (i. e. not merely brightness of a divine and celestial kind, but the glorious presence of God Himself, the Shechinah, abiding in her: see Revelation 21:23; also ch. Revelation 15:8): her brightness (henceforward the description goes on independent in construction of ἔδειξεν, and changes several times: so in ch. Revelation 1:15 ff. See Winer, edn. 6, § 59. 11. φωστήρ, from Revelation 21:23, is the effect of the divine glory shining in her: see reff. Gen., where it is used of the heavenly bodies) (was) like to a stone most precious, as it were to a jasper stone, crystal clear (Wetst. quotes from Psellus, ἡ ἴασπις φύσει κρυσταλλοειδής. See this “crystallizing” jasper discussed in note on ch. Revelation 4:3. Ebrard thinks it is the diamond); having (on the construction, see above) a wall great and high, having (also) twelve gates (see Ezekiel 48:30 ff., where the same features are found in the description), and at the gates (dat. after ἐπί, of close juxtaposition, primarily of addition) twelve angels, and names inscribed (contrast to the ὀνόματα βλασφημίας, ch. Revelation 17:3), which are [the names] of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel (it does not follow from this description either, 1. that the angels must necessarily be guardians, seeing that no foes remain to be guarded against: they are for the completeness and adornment of the city after the idea of a beautiful fortress, adopted to set it forth:—or, 2. that, as in the Jewish books (see De Wette here), each gate is to be imagined as used by each tribe: the twelve tribes of Israel represent the whole people of God, and the city the encampment of Israel: see below). From (on the side entering from) the sun-rising three gates (Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, in Ezekiel 48:32. In ch. Revelation 7:6, Manasseh is substituted for Dan, which is omitted. See there), from the north three gates (Reuben, Judah, Levi), from the south three gates (Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun), from the sun-setting three gates (Gad, Asher, Naphtali: Ezek. ibid. In Numbers 2, the order of encampment is thus set down: East,—Judah, Issachar, Zebulun: South,—Reuben, Simeon, Gad: West,—Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin: North,—Dan, Asher, Naphtali). And the wall of the city (the wall surrounding the city) having (had: for masc. of the part., see ch. Revelation 4:1 reff.) twelve foundation-stones (i. e. probably, each portion of the wall joining two gates had a conspicuous basement, of one vast stone. Four of these, as Düsterd. observes, would be corner-stones, joining the third gate on one side to the first gate on the next), and upon them (gen. over them, perhaps extending all their length) twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (cf. Ephesians 2:20, where however the ruling idea is a different one, see the interpretation in the note. No inference can be drawn as has been drawn by some from this that the Writer was not himself an Apostle: see prolegg. § i. 84 ff.).

Verses 15-17

15–17.] Its measurement: cf. Ezekiel 40:3-5. And he that spoke with me had as a measure a golden reed (reff.) that he might measure the city, and her gates and her wall. And the city lieth four-square (so E. V. well; is in shape tetragonal), and her length is as great as [also] her breadth (see below). And he measured the city with the reed to the length of stadii of the amount of twelve thousands (such appears to be the construction. On the ἐπί, ‘over,’ of extent, see Winer, edn. 6, § 49, l. 3, a. We have it in the adverbial phrase ἐφʼ ὅσον, Romans 11:13. The 12,000 stadii are in all probability the whole circumference, 1000 to each space between the gates); the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal (the supposition of many expositors, that the city thus formed a monstrous cube, 3000 stadii in length, in breadth, and in height, really does not appear to be necessarily included in these words. Nay, it seems to be precluded by what next follows, where the angel measures the height of the wall. For Düsterdieck’s idea that the houses were 3000 stadii in height, while the wall was only 144 cubits, is too absurd to come at all into question. The words are open, this last consideration being taken into account, to two interpretations: 1) that the city, including the hill or rock on which it was placed, and which may be imagined as descending with it, formed such a cube as seems here described: or 2) that there is some looseness of use in the word ἴσα, and that we must understand that the length and breadth were equal to each other and the height equal all round: nearly so De Wette, al. Of these two I prefer the former, as doing no violence to the words, and as recalling somewhat the form of the earthly Jerusalem on its escarpment above the valley of the Kedron. Some such idea seems also to be pointed at in the rabbinical books, e. g. Bava Bathra, f. 75. 2, “Dixit Rabba, R. Jochananem dixisse, Deum S. B. tempore futuro Hierosolyma evecturum in altitudinem xii. milliarium S. D. Zach. xiv. 10. Quid est ‘in loco suo?’ talem esse futuram superne, qualis est infra. Rabba dixit, senex mihi narravit, se vidisse Hierosolymam priorem, quæ xii. milliarium erat. Dices, difficilem fore adscensum? sed scriptum est, Isaiah 60:8.” And in Schir R. vii. 5, “Jerusalem tempore futuro dilatabitur ita ut pertingat usque ad portas Damasci, Zach. Revelation 9:1 … et exaltabitur ut pertingat usque ad thronum gloriæ, donec dicatur, locus mihi angustus est.” See more citations in Wetst,). And he measured the wall of it (i. e. the height of the wall of it), of an hundred and forty-four cubits, the measure of a man, which is that of an angel (meaning that in this matter of measure, men and angels use the same. The interpretation, that in this particular case, the angel used the measure current among men (De Wette, al.), is ungrammatical.

As to the height thus given, it may be observed that the height of Solomon’s porch, the highest part of his temple, was 120 cubits, 2 Chronicles 3:4, and the general height of his temple, 30 cubits, 1 Kings 6:2).

Verses 18-27

18–27.] Material, and further description of the city. And the building-work (Jos. in ref. is speaking of the harbour of Cæsarea, as built by Herod the Great: he describes it as being τῇ δομήσει περίβλεπτον, because the materials were costly and brought from a distance: and says, ἡ δὲ ἐνδόμησις ὅσην ἐνεβάλετο κατὰ τῆς θαλάττης εἰς διακοσίους πόδας. This would be, as appears when he afterwards describes (as here) its materials, a mole or breastwork, against the sea. The word seems to be no where else found) of the wall of it (was) jasper (ch. Revelation 4:3, note), and the city (was) pure gold ( χρυσός, the metal itself: χρυσίον, the same wrought into any form for use: so with ἄργυρος and ἀργυρίον) like to pure glass (i. e. ideal gold, transparent, such as no gold is here, but surpassing it in splendour). The foundation-stones of the wall of the city (see above, Revelation 21:14) (were) adorned with every (cf. πᾶν, ch. Revelation 18:12) precious stone (not that the stones were merely set on the θεμέλιοι, but that the θεμ. themselves consisted of them: see below, and cf. Isaiah 54:12): the first foundation-stone (was) jasper (the material of the upper building of the wall, Revelation 21:18), the second, sapphire ( סַפִּיר, reff. The stone described under this name by Pliny seems to be our lapis lazuli: he says, xxxvii. 39, “Sapphirus et aureis punctis collucet. Cæruleæ et sapphiri, raroque cum purpura.” But the sapphire of the Scriptures seems more like the present hard sky-blue stone known by that name: see ref. Ezekiel 1; and Winer, Realw., Edelstein, 5), the third, chalcedony (this name is unknown: corresponding perhasps to שְׁבוֹ, Exodus 28:19; Exodus 39:12 [Exodus 36:18], which the LXX and Josephus render ἀχάτης, agate. There seems to have been an agate brought from Chalcedon. It is described as semi-opaque, sky-blue, with stripes of other colours: “morientibus arboribus similes,” Plin. xxxvii. 30. See Winer, ut supra, 8, and 16), the fourth, emerald (note, ch. Revelation 4:3), the fifth, sardonyx ( יַהֲלוֹם, Exodus 39:11; Ezekiel 28:13; Pliny, xxxvii. 24, says, “Sardonyches olim ut ex nomine ipso apparet, intelligebantur candore in sarda, hoc est velut carnibus in ungue hominis imposito, et utroque translucido.” The ancient versions and Josephus call it onyx. See Winer, ut supra, 6), the sixth, sardius (ch. Revelation 4:3, note), the seventh, chrysolith ( תַּרִשִׁישׁ: reff. al. and Josephus thus render it. The stone at present so called is pale green, transparent, and crystallized with shifting colours. But the ancient chrysoliths are described by Pliny as “aureo fulgore translucentes,” and have been supposed the same as our topaz: or by some, as amber: see Winer, ut supra, 10), the eighth, beryl ( שֹׁהַם, ref. Exod.: rendered by the LXX in Genesis 2:12, λίθος ὁ πράσινος, and variously in other places. Epiphanius in Wetst. says, βηρύλλιον γλαυκίζων μέν ἐστι θαλασσοβαφής, ἔχων εἶδος καὶ τῆς ὑδαρεστέρας ὑακίνθου: and Pliny xxxvii. 20, “viriditatem puri maris imitantur,” Winer, ut supra, 11), the ninth, topaz ( פִּטְדָה, reff. and al. Strabo describes it as διαφανής, χρυσοειδὲς ἀπολάμπων φέγγος, xvi. p. 770, Wetst., where see more testimonies. But Plin. xxxvii. 32, says “egregia etiamnum to-pazio gloria est, suo virenti genere:” whence some have supposed it our chrysolith: see above. Cf. Job 28:19; and Winer ut supra, 2), the tenth, chrysoprasus (this word is found only in Pliny, xxxvii. 20, “vicinum genus huic (beryllo) est pallidius, et a quibusdam proprii generis existimatur, vocaturque chrysoprasus:” and 21, “amethysti fulgens purpura”), the eleventh, jacinth ( לֶשֶׁם: so alii apud Tromm. in Exodus 28:19, where the LXX have λιγύριον, which again occurs in Ezekiel 28:13, where לֶשֶׁם is not found: while in Exodus 28:20 Symm. renders תַּרְשִׁישׁ by ὑάκινθος. The word is not found in LXX as the name of a gem. Pliny, xxxvii. 41: “ille emicans in amethysto fulgor violaceus dilutus est in hyacintho”), the twelfth, amethyst ( אַחְלָמָה reff. Pliny, xxxvii. 40, reckons the amethyst among the purple stones, and says of the best, the Indian, “absolutum felicis purpuræ colorem habent … perlucent autem omnes violaceo colore.” So that it seems to be the stone now known by that name). And the twelve gates, twelve pearls (Isaiah 54:12, “carbuncles.” Wetst. quotes from the Rabbinical Bava Bathra, f. 75. 1: “Deus S. B. adducet gemmas et margaritas, triginta cubitos longas totidemque latas: easque excavabit in altitudinem xx cubitorum, et latitudinem x cubitorum, collocabitque eas in portis Hierosolymorum.” See many more in Wetst. and Schöttgen), each one separately (reff.) of the gates was (made) out of one pearl. And the street (generic: the street-material, throughout) of the city (was) pure gold like transparent glass (see above on Revelation 21:18). And a temple I saw not in it: for the Lord God Almighty is the temple of it, and the Lamb (i. e. the inhabitants need no place of worship or sacrifice, the object of all worship being present, and the great Sacrifice Himself being there). And the city hath not need of the sun nor yet of the moon, that they should shine on her ( αὐτῇ, dat. commodi): for the glory of God (the brightness of His presence, the Shechinah: see above, Revelation 21:11) lightened her, and her lamp was the Lamb (see Isaiah 60:19-20. No assignment of the members of the sentence must be thought of, such as that ἡ δόξα τ. θεοῦ is her Sun, and τὸ ἀρνίον her Moon: so Grot. and Ewald (not De Wette, as Düsterd., who only thinks that φωτίζειν corresponds to the sun and λύχνος to the moon, but protests against applying these to the divine Persons separately)): and the nations shall walk by means of her light (i. e. she shall be so bright as to serve for light,—for sun and moon both,—to the world that then is, and her inhabitants. For such inhabitants are clearly supposed; see below, and ch. Revelation 22:2). And the kings of the earth (no longer hostile to Christ) bring (pres. of habit and certainty, as so often in this prophecy) their (the kings’, not the nations’, as Revelation 21:26) glory (cf. Isaiah 60:3; all in which they glory) into her: and her gates shall never be shut by day (i. e. in meaning, shall never be shut, seeing it will always be day: shall never be shut, for if they were, they must be shut by day): for night shall not exist there. And they (men) shall bring the glory and the costliness of the nations into her (Isaiah 66:12. Among the mysteries of this new heaven and new earth this is set forth to us: that, besides the glorified church, there shall still be dwelling on the renewed earth nations, organized under kings, and (ch. Revelation 22:2) saved by means of the influences of the heavenly city). And there shall never enter into her, every thing unclean, and working abomination and falsehood, but only (lit. except) they that are written in the book of life of the Lamb (if then the kings of the earth, and the nations, bring their glory and their treasures into her, and if none shall ever enter into her that is not written in the book of life, it follows, that these kings, and these nations, are written in the book of life. And so perhaps some light may be thrown on one of the darkest mysteries of redemption. There may be,—I say it with all diffidence,—those who have been saved by Christ without ever forming a part of his visible organized Church).

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Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Revelation 21". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.