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Chapter Twenty-One Closing Scenes (Part One)
In regard to the first division of Revelation 21:0 it is important to note that prophecy does not properly relate to the eternal state. It is particularly occupied with this earth up to and including the millennium. Only occasionally do we have any reference in the prophetic scriptures to the unending ages that are to follow afterwards.
Eternal Issues (Revelation 21:1-8)
“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” (1). This verse reminds us of Isaiah’s prophecy, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17); and “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the lord, so shall your seed and your name remain” (Isaiah 66:22). The two chapters from which these verses are quoted have to do with the millennium. But I believe we have in Revelation 21:1 faith’s telescope looking toward the unchanging and unchangeable future condition that will abide forever. I have no doubt it is to these promises that the apostle Peter referred in his second Epistle. After describing the destruction by fire of the heavens and the earth that now are, he said, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). This then is the glorious consummation to which the opening verses of Revelation 21:0 introduce us.
The most marvelous object of that unending condition, next to the blessed Lord Himself, will be the church, which has been redeemed to God by the precious blood of His Son. For, observe the bridal condition does not cease at the close of the millennium: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” A thousand years of the reign of righteousness will have rolled by before the fulfillment of this verse, and still the holy city is seen in all the freshness and loveliness of an adorned bride.
And this happy state will abide forever, for verses 3 and 4 describe a scene of blissful communion that is never terminated. The passage is beautiful in its simplicity, and comment would only seem to be like an attempt to paint the rose. How longingly must every believing heart look forward to that glorious day.
A voice from the throne cries, “Behold, I make all things new.” And John is again commanded to write and assured that “these words are true and faithful” (5). The voice then exclaims solemnly “It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” (6). It is the proclamation that all the ways of God have found their final issue in the full glory of His blessed Son, who is the first and the last.
In verse 8 we are told of those who will never enter the holy city and who will have no part in the bright glories depicted above. But before giving the awful list the Lord graciously extends another gospel invitation. He wants all to whom these words come to know that there is mercy if they will only avail themselves of it. “I will give unto him,” He says, “that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (6). And He follows this with a word of encouragement to the overcomer: “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (7). The world may bid for us now, and the treacherous flesh within may seek to act in concert with that world and its god, wooing our souls from Christ. But with the glorious promises of this book before us, we must long to rise above the power of present things. In the energy of the Holy Spirit we can overcome the world by faith, in view of what Christ is preparing for those who love Him.
How gladly would we believe that not one soul of man will fail of the joy that is kept in store for those who know Christ. But alas, sin has made this impossible. So this part of our chapter closes with the tremendously solemn announcement that “the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and 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” (8). The list includes not only those who are generally viewed as discreditable sinners, but the cowardly and the unbelieving. The cowardly were fearful of confessing Christ, perhaps because of the sneers of professed friends, or the consequences of turning from the world. The unbelieving refused to credit the testimony God had given and to rest their souls on the work of Christ. These both are linked up with the unclean and unholy of all classes. Inasmuch as “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” there can be no difference in their final doom if Christ is rejected. Though, as already noticed in the last chapter, every transgression and disobedience will receive its just recompense of reward.
The City of God (Revelation 21:9-17)
Beginning with the ninth verse we have a marvelous description of the new Jerusalem. Note that this comes at the conclusion of the prophetic outline. It is a kind of appendix or supplementary description. Just as one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues gave to John a vision of Babylon the great (17-18), so here one of the same angels now bids him come and view the bride, the Lamb’s wife. Carrying him away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, the angel shows him that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of Heaven from God. Babylon was both a city and a woman-both a great system and a company of people professing to be in bridal relation with the Lamb. So here the holy Jerusalem is both a city and a woman. The city is the bride as well as the home of the saints; just as we speak of Rome when we mean the church that has her seat there, as well as the city where she sits.
By this great city descending out of Heaven from God, I understand then the diffusion of heavenly principles over all this earth during the millennium by the heavenly saint. It is through His saints that the Lord is going to claim His inheritance. We may learn in this symbolic description of the city, the great guiding principles that will prevail in that coming age, and which are full of instruction for us at the present time. The city has the glory of God, and her light is described as “like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (11). The church is to be the vessel for displaying the glory of God throughout that age of righteousness and indeed, as verse 2 has already informed us, throughout all the ages to come. The “wall great and high” speaks of separation, a divine principle that runs throughout the Word of God from the time that sin entered to the close. A wall is for protection too. The separation of God’s people is not an arbitrary principle to their discomfort, as some seem to think; it is clearly for their blessing, protecting from the evil without.
Though the wall is great and high, there are twelve gates, the number of administrative completeness. The gate itself, you will remember, is in Scripture the place of judgment. So the thought would seem to be that we have here righteousness reigning and provision made for entrance and exit, holy and happy liberty in accord with the holiness of God’s nature. At the gates are twelve angels, divine messengers. On the gates are written the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. In the millennium, government is to be maintained, as we have already seen, through God’s earthly people being restored to their own land and to unbroken fellowship with the Lord. Thus the heavens will respond to God’s earthly people, Jezreel (the seed of God), in a way that means blessing for all the world. Three gates on each of the four sides of the city illustrate the universality of the divine government thus fully revealed.
The wall, we are told, had twelve foundations and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. This agrees strikingly with our Lord’s promise to the twelve that, inasmuch as they had followed Him in His rejection, when the day of the earth’s regeneration comes they will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28). Just as in Ephesians 2:0 the church is pictured as a holy temple, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, so here the holy city rests on the chosen messengers. They are to be the representatives of that authority in the age to come.
The angel who talked with John, measured the city with a golden rod. The dimensions are given in verses 16-17: “And the city lieth foursquare.” The length being as large as the breadth, and this, in each instance, is twelve thousand furlongs. The wall itself is one hundred and forty-four cubits high. We are told that the length, the breadth, and the height of the city are equal. It has been suggested from this that the city is a cube, which may indeed be. But I frankly confess that I find the symbolism in that case exceedingly difficult to visualize before the mind’s eye. I rather think of that holy city as the mountain of God, a vast pyramid resting on a foursquare base. It is twelve thousand furlongs each way and rises to a height as great as its length and breadth. The throne of God and of the Lamb is the very apex of it. From the throne flows the river of the water of life, winding about the mountain and through the middle of the one street of gold. But whether we think of a cube or a pyramid, the thought is the same: it is a city of absolute perfection. Twelve, the number of governmental completeness, is seen everywhere. Who can attempt to depict it any more clearly than the verses themselves describe it. It is a city whose wall is of jasper-the glory of God; built of pure gold, like unto clear glass-the divine glory maintained by righteousness.
The foundations of the wall are garnished with all manner of precious stones, corresponding to the stones seen in the breastplate of the high priest (Exodus 28:15-21). These stones tell of the particular and peculiar preciousness that each believer has in the eyes of the Lord.
The twelve gates are twelve pearls, every gate of one pearl. Each entrance way reminds us of that one pearl of great price. Our Lord, the heavenly merchantman, sold all that He had to buy the church. For though He was rich, yet He became poor that He might make it His own forever.
The street of pure gold reminds us that our feet will stand on the righteousness of God. In His justice we will stand and walk forever. It is not mere mercy that is the ground of our salvation, but God’s glory has been fully and righteously maintained in the work of Calvary’s cross. Therefore He is faithful and just in receiving all who trust His Son.
On earth the church is pictured as a holy temple unto the Lord. In that day there will be no temple seen, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple (22). Nearness to God will characterize every saint. None will be shut out. Our Lord said, “Thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23). So we can sing even now,
So near, so very near to God,
I could not nearer be;
For in the person of His Son,
I am as near as He.
When we get home there will be no separating veil and there will be no outer court beyond which we dare not come. We will all be at home with God and the Lamb forevermore. That city will have no need of created light-bearers, such as sun and moon to shine in it. These lights are for this world, not for that which is to come. The glory of God will be the light displayed everywhere, and the Lamb Himself will be the lamp. For the rendering, “the Lamb is the light” hardly conveys the full thought. The glory of God is the light, and the Lamb is the One on whom that glory is centralized. He is the lamp from which it all shines. The glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus is our light even now. It is a light that has pierced our darkened hearts, and we will enjoy that light eternally in the home of the saints above. The nations who are spared to enter the millennial kingdom will walk in its light. All earth’s rulers will bring their glory and honor to that throne city and light their tapers at that celestial fire.
The gates, we are told, will not be shut at all by day, and night will be unknown there (25). I do not dwell on this now, for we have the same expression repeated in the next chapter. In that city of holiness and blessing, no unclean thing will ever enter in to defile. No deceiving serpent will enter into that paradise of God, nor any who display kinship with Satan, the father of lies. Only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life; those who have judged themselves in the presence of God; those who have put their trust in Him who shed His precious blood for our sins on that cross of shame may rest assured that in His book their names are written even now. Their names will be displayed there in the holy city.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Revelation 21". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany