Bible Commentaries

E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Revelation 21


Questions For Revelation Chapter Twenty-One

1.Tell what John saw next.

2.What had become of the first ones?

3.Name the city John saw.

4.From where was it coming?

5.How was it prepared?

6.From where did he hear a voice?

7.What had come to be with men?

8.Who will dwell with them?

9.State the relation to exist between them?

10.Tell the service God will do for them.

11.What will former things have done?

12.Among these will be what?

13.Tell what will be made new.

14.Who declared this to be so ?

15.Why was John told to write?

16.What was said next?

17.Tell the description of the speaker.

18.What will he give freely?

19."ro whom will he give this?

20.Who shall inherit all things? .

21.What will God be to him?

22.Where will the liars have their part?

23.What death is this called?

24. Tell who will share this with the liars.

25. Who came to John now?

26. What did he pr<>mise to show him?

27. By what was he carried away?

28. What did he show him?

29. From where was it descending?

30. What glory did it have?

31.Describe her light.

32.And what kind of wall did it have?

33.How many gates?

34.Who stood at the gates?

35.What names were written?

36.How were the gates distributed?

37.State the number of foundations.

38.By what were they named?

39.What did the angel hold in his hand?

40.For what was it to be used?

41.What was the form of the city?

42.State its dimensions.

43.What was the size of the wall?

44.Of what was the wall made?

45.Of what was the city made?

46.How was the foundation adorned?

47.With how many stones?

48. Of what were the gates made?

49.With what were the streets paved?

50.What furnished the light?

51.Why was there no temple seen?

52.Who will walk in the light of the city?

53.What will the kings bring into it?

54.At what hour will the gates be closed?

55.Why will this he?

56.What shall not be allowed to enter?

57. State who will be permitted to enter..

Verse 1

General remarks. When this and the next chapter are being considered, it is usually asked if the statements are literal or figurative. And as a rule no distinction is made between the righteous and the wicked when asking the question. Evidently a distinction should be made since the conditions of the persons themselves will not be the same. At any rate we do not have the specific information concerning that of the wicked that we do of the righteous. Therefore I believe it will be well to offer some remarks on this matter before taking up the verses. It is known that the Bible uses both literal and figurative language all through the volume, which is true of most compositions of literature. It is also true that a statement might be made of some truth or fact that could be correctly applied in either way, depending on how the statement is worded. For instance it might be declared of a certain thing that it is dead. But that might be said of its personal being and mean that it is dead because the life has actually gone out of it. Or it might be declared to be dead because the whole being is separated from something else, the word "death" meaning a separation. But if the statement is made from the former standpoint the meaning would be literal, and if from the other the figurative sense should be understood.It will be necessary, therefore, to consider the context in specific passages in determining which form of language is used.

There is no direct information nor promise for the wicked to have a spiritual or glorious body after the resurrection. Any positive aflirmation that may be made on this matter must be done in the absence of any declaration in the Bible. As far as the promises or information are concerned, the wicked will go into the next world with the same kind of bodies they had when they left this world. That is not so concerning those who die in Christ, or there are many passages that promise them a body that will be changed from a fleshly to a spiritual character. Hence it is an unavoidable conclusion that the future circumstances of the righteous must be the kind that can be experienced and enjoyed by a person who is wholly spiritual. Then a logical question may be asked as to why the Lord would use language that is apparently literal if it must be understood figuratively. It is in order to bring the divine thoughts to within the human understanding. Isaiah 55:9 says of God: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." If the thoughts of God are that much higher than those of Prayer of Manasseh, had He clothed his thoughts in language correspondingly high, then man never could have comprehended them. For that reason the heavenly thoughts are expresed in human terms. Accordingly Paul says, "I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh" ( Romans 6:19). Man would have no other way of appreciating a description of the future after this life except by such a form of speech. Even the inspired apostle John did not know what we will be in the next life ( 1 John 3:2). Hence in giving man a description of the eternal state of the righteous, it is often contrasted with things we dislike and compared with what we enjoy. And even such illustrations may be relative only, for a thing may be desirable from one standpoint and undesirable from another. To cite a single instance we are told that "there shall be no night there." That is said from the standpoint that we prefer the daylight to darkness. And yet from another we might think favorably of the night because it brings us the cooling atmosphere and the time of rest. And so all of these thoughts should be observed when considering the two chapters now before us. I will offer another suggestion before starting into the comments on the verses.

God never exaggerates the truth, and in giving us a description of the future condition of mankind, He has not made it look any stronger than it actually will be. If the description of the fate of the lost is figurative only, then What will be the literal state? Likewise, if the home of the soul as described in these chapters is pictured in figurative language only, then how wonderful the real situtation will be! In the words of the song: "We speak of the realms of the blest, that country so bright and so fair; and oft are its glories confessed, but what must it be to be there! We speak of its pathways of gold, of its walls decked with jewels so rare; of its wonders and pleasures untold, but what must it be to be there!" And thus on the basis of the foregoing paragraphs, I shall try to explain the various descriptions given in these closing chapters of the great Book.

Verse1. New heaven and a new earth. The heavens means the atmospheric region surrounding the earth and is a part of the same unit in creation. The home of the redeemed is called by the phrase "heaven and earth" because that is the present kind of home man lives in. If we were birds instead of men the vision would have showed John a "new nest." This new heaven and earth is what Jesus means in Matthew 5:5 where He says, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." It is the one Peter is looking for when he says, "We, Acts - cording to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteouness" ( 2 Peter 3:13). No more sea. This is an instance of a kind referred to in the general remarks, where the application must be made upon the basis of the context. In some respects we can think of the sea in a favorable light, with its wondrous treasures and submarine plants. and the innumerable varieties of food to gratify our appetites. But we know the vision is to show something desirable on the basis of contrast, and that makes us think of the ceaseless unrest and destructive billows that engulf men and ships,

Verse 2

Holy city new Jerusalem means the church that is to be united at the last day in the final marriage of Christ as the bridegroom. (See the comments at Revelation 19:7.) Paul speaks of the church as the "heavenly Jerusalem" in Hebrews 12:22, and he also speaks of it as the city that is above and is free and "the mother of us all" ( Galatians 4:26), Prepared refers to the condition a bride brings to herself in view of her approaching marriage.

Verse 3

Tabernacle is used figuratively to represent the place where a person resides. It is used here as a symbol of the close association that will exist between God and his people in the eternal age. He will not merely honor the saved of men by making a call upon them but will come and dwell with them. That does not mean that God will descend from his lofty condition so that man would think of having a guest that is his equal in rank. He will still be God and the redeemed of men will still compose a people, but notwithstanding this great difference He will be a gracious Friend to give the honor of divine "company" to the creatures made in His image.

Verse 4

God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, Upon hearing this read once a little girl was caused to exclaim, "God must have a large handkerchief." I report this because she was making the same erroneous interpretation of the passages that many older people make. That is because they forget that they are reading in a book that was written on the basis of symbols. The significance of the statement is that the tears will be wiped away by removing or preventing anything that could cause tears; the next words of the verse agree with this explanation. There shall be no more death. The Saviour of men went down into the depths of death and came out again, bringing with Him the eternal victory over it, thus removing the possibility for the "grim monster" ever again to overcome those who are accounted worthy of the "better resurrection" with either physical or spiritual death. This will prevent sorrow, crying and pain, which explains how God will wipe away all tears. Former things are passed away will be true at that period beyond the resurrection of the righteous.

Verse 5

He that sat upon the throne is the same as was shown in Revelation 20:11. He is the one who created all things that exist, but all the items that were msds in the first creation pertaining to the material universe will be replaced with a new order of things that will be eternal, and adapted to the needs and enjoyment of the glorified part of humanity. The pronoun he means the angel who has been John's companion and exhibitor all through the vision of this book. Having taken a view of these wonderful objects the angel tells John to write the description in his book, and assures him that all that he has seen and heard is true and faithful, which means the vision and the words are a faithful report of the truth.

Verse 6

It is done is the same thing that was said as reported at Revelation 16:17. The expression signifies that everything planned by the Lord and predicted for the period up to the point at hand has been accomplished. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and the phrase is used symbolically, signifying that Jesus has been connected with all things done by his Father throughout. The same truth is meant by the following phrase, the beginning and the end. I will give, etc. Having completed everthing necessary for the redemption and glorification of Prayer of Manasseh, He is prepared to offer the benefit of the plan to humanity. It will be freely means not only that it is not something that can be purchased with silver and gold, but also that it will be supplied in abundance. Another condition that should be noticed is the offer is made to those who are athirst. The Lord"s favors have always been offered on such a condition. Jesus said ( Matthew 5:6), "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled." He also specified in the great invitation to "come unto me" that He meant those who were "heavy laden." There is nothing selfish or arbitrary about this, for only those who sincerely desire the water of life would relish its tastes if they even attempted to drink it.

Verse 7

He that overcometh is another of the principles that distinguish the favor of God from what is generally offered by man. It is not to the strongest and successful ones. for then there would be many worthy people who would lose out, for few if any can be successful when that word is used in its ordinary sense. But the reward is to those who overcome and 1 John 5:4 states that faith is the means by which we may overcome. That brings the blessings of God within reach of all men since all can have faith whether they are those of one or five talents. Inherit all thi-ngs logically has to mean the things to which reference has just been made concerning the new creation. Be his God . . .be my son is the same close association that is mentioned and commented upon at verse3.

Verse 8

Fearful is from DEILOS, which Thayer defines, "timid, fearful," and he then explains it to denote "Christians who through cowardice give way under persecutions and apostatize [deny their Lord]. This definition or explanation is justified by the next word in the text, namely, the unbeiieving. Abominable is from BDELIISSO, and Thayer's definition is "to render foul, to cause to be abhorred." It is a word that would have a general meaning, hence the apostle follows up with a number of specifications. Whorernongers are men who do not merely commit adultery on some specific occasion( which of itself would be wrong), but who are regular patrons of women whose business is to receive men either for lust or money. Sorcerers is from PHARMAKENS, and Thayer's lexicon defines it, "one who prepares or uses magical remedies; a sorcerer." It could well be classed with the "dope" trade of our day. Idolaters is defined, "A worshipper of false gods." That is its literal meaning and makes it apply to any conduct where a man shows a perference for something over the true God. Hence Paul declares in Ephesians 5:5 that a covetous man is an idolater. All liars is rendered "liars of all kinds" by Moffatt. That rendering is evidently correct for it would be unnecessary to state that every liar is meant in the sense of not allowing some of them to escape; that would be taken for granted. But it means to include not only those who in the direct sense make positive statements that are false, but also everyone who says or does anything for the purpose of making a false impression. When Ananias and his wife deposited some money before Peter there is no evidence that they actually said anything about it until Peter forced them to speak. But yet he accused them of lying because they intended to make a false impression upon the apostle. Therefore we should understand that all deliberate attempts to deceive another will be regarded as lies. It can be done even by stating a part of the truth in such a way as to make a false impression. Paul doubtless was thinking of this when he declared he was not "hand1ing the word of God deceitfully" ( 2 Corinthians 4:2). Have their part. They will not receive any part of the good things that have just been promised to the faithful. Their fate will be to be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, which is the place designated by the Greek word GEHENNA. Which is the second death. It is called this because all mankind are bound to die physically ( Hebrews 9:27) on account of the sin of Adam. But the wicked will die (be separated) from God for ever and have to remain in this lake of fire away from God.

Verse 9

The original angel who came to John at the beginning of the vision has not left the isle, but occasionally there will be an extra conversation permitted for some one or more of the other persons introduced from time to time, For instance, one of the elders ( Revelation 5:5), the beasts or living creatures ( Revelation 6:1; Revelation 6:3; Revelation 6:5; Revelation 6:7), the voice from heaven ( Revelation 10:8), one of the seven angels ( Revelation 17:1) and the one in our verse. John heard many other voices from time to time, but the ones to which reference is made talked to him. This angel of our verse invited John to see a vision of the bride, the Lamb"s wife.

Verse 10

He carried me away was not literal because John never actually left the isle any time through the scenes of this book. The sense in which it was done is signified by the words in the spirit. These extra visions injected into the over-all picture-of this book, may be illustrated by certain special items called "insets" that are often seen within the scope of some large picture. They serve as explanations of some outstanding feature. In this special vision John saw a mountain from the top of which he could get a good view of what the angel wished him to see. The angel told John he would show him the bride, the Lamb"s wife, and when he looked he saw a city instead. That is because the bride is the church ( Ephesians 5:25-33), and also the church is likened to a city ( Hebrews 12:22-23). Having transferred the imagery from a woman to a city, the following passages will be a description of a beautiful city. It is called holy Jerusalem because that title is attached to the church "which is the mother of us all" ( Galatians 4:26). Descending out of heaven from God. That was very appropriate because while the church is composed of men and women on the earth, the design and origin of it were from the dwelling place of God. .

Verse 11

Having the glory of God is understandable because anything that comes from heaven would be adorned with the glory of God. The glory of the city was so great that John likens it to the rays or a precious stone. There is something most significant about using precious stones as symbols in describing the splendors of the celestial city. We have all beheld diamonds and other precious jewels and admired their glittering brilliance. However, we have observed also that the greatest degree of their beauty is caused by the light that is reflected upon them from some outside source. So with these precious stones. that bedeck the city of God; they obtain their glow from the light that radiates from the throne of God. The one named in this verse is only referred to for a comparison, but the actual use of the stones themselves will be described in a later place in this chapter. The jasper that is used to compare the brilliant light is described as being clear as crystal. That is a description of a diamond which is among the most attractive of stones.

Verse 12

The dimensions of the wall will be noticed at verses16,17, but here they are briefly stated to be great and high. In old times the most important cities were surrounded with walls, hence it is a desirable asset to say this city was walled. It is significant that it was great and high. That would indicate good protection from the enemies, since the wall was too high to be scaled and too great or strong to be penetrated or beaten down. Among the numerical symbols that have been very prominent in this book are four and its multiples, twelve and four and twenty. Four was the number of the living creatures that represented the redeemed from the four corners of the earth, Twelve was used if the organized systems that God has had are being considered from one dispensation alone, either the Mosaic or the Christian. That is because there were twelve tribes in the one and twelve apostles in the other. Hence it is appropriate that John should see the twelve gates to this city representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The twelve apostles will be pointed out later, but it was in order to show the twelve tribes first because the Mosaic system was first given.

Verse 13

The tabernacle of the Mosaic system had much beauty in its formation, and also in the garments of the priestly service. That was not as an encouragement to vanity or doing something for mere show. But God is the designer and maker of all things, and those that are seen in the universe that are beautiful are not so by accident. Among the items that contribute to the beauty of any structure is the symmetry of its arrangement. A city that is foursquare should not have a varying number of gates in its walls. There are twelve gates to this city and the equal distribution of them in sets of three is very appropriate. It might have seemed sufficiently clear to say that the gates were equally divided amidst the four sides of the city. However, this is supposed to be a somewhat poetical or picturesque description of a very superb spot, and it is fitting to go into these details.

Verse 14

This completes the full representations corresponding to the four and twenty elders. The twelve gates stand for the tribes of Israel, and here are the twelve original apostles of Christ. There is nothing said about angels in connection with the twelve apostles as there was with the twelve gates. That is doubtless because gates call for guards at the entrance of an important city, while a foundation is a more fixed part of a structure and does not call for supervision. In literal architecture there would be actually only one foundation to a building. Yet it might be built of several stones as was this one, and each stone is spoken of as a foundation. In literal language it would be one foundation but composed of a number of stones. In truth that is the way Paul speaks of the church in Ephesians 2:20 where he says Christians are built upon the foundation (singular) of the apostles and prophets. It is common to see important names engraved on stones composing a building. It generally is of persons who have made valuable contributions to the structure. From that standpoint it is significant to have the names of the apostles on these stones.

Verse 15

He that talked with me: means the angel who had been sent to give John the vision. This angel had the measuring reed and he did the measuring. A reed in nature is produced on the banks or near the edge of bodies of water and the stems are used for various purposes. The one the angel had was an artificial one and was made of bright and precious metal. Such an instrument was proper for the important matter of measuring divine things, We are not told the capacity of this measuring rule as we might do in the case of a literal measuring stick, such as a yardstick or foot measure. We have only the computation after the angel did the measuring.

Verse 16

The city was a cube, the length and breadth and height being equal. The measurement was twelve thousand furlongs, which is fifteen hundred miles. For an approximate estimate to help us visualize the size of that city, let us think that if a man were to start at the Gulf of Mexico and travel to the Great Lakes, he would have made the journey along one side only of the city. It is true that the eternal city will not be restricted to miles as we measure distances, but the figures are intended to give us some impression of the abundant provision that God has made for the saved of all ages.

Verse 17

In the preceding verse the angel measured the city which gave the length of it. In this verse he measured the wall which necessarily means the thickness of it. The measurement was a hundred and forty and four cubits, another multiple of one of our prominent Numbers, twelve. Measure of a Prayer of Manasseh, that ts, of the angel. This unusual language only means that the angel used the same action in measuring the wall that a man would use in such a situation. The usual length of a cubit is eighteen inches, hence this wall was two hundred and sixteen feet thick. Such would be a proper thickness to be proportionate to such a height,

Verse 18

The body of the wall was of jasper, which we are told in verse11is a substance that is "clear as crystal" thus describing a diamond. Let us try to see with our mind"s eye a diamond that is fifteen hundred miles in diameter and we will have a mental picture of one side of this city. City was pure gold means the street of it according to verse21. Gold is a metal (not a stone), hence the likeness to clear glass is explained in verse21as of transparent glass. Literal gold is one of the most condensed of metals and hence would naturally be the opposite of transparent. So we should understand that the metal was so pure and the texture so fine that it would take on a very high polish. It was so much that way that in looking upon it one would really seem to see a substance that his eyes were penetrating (as if they were performing the action of an X-ray), when in reality he was beholding something with an incomprehensibly high gloss.

Verse 19

The foundation stones of the wall were garnished (decorated) with all manner of precious stones, which means with stones of various descriptions. The first was jasper which we have previously learned is like a diamond. Sapphires are of several varieties and no special one is named, but the general description in the English dictionaries shows them to be brilliant gems inclined to be transparent. A chalcedony is a stone with a blue tint and a glossy surface. Emerald is a stone with rich coloring of green and very much prized as a precious stone.

Verse 20

A sardonya: is described by Thayer as follows: "A precious stone marked by the red color of the carnelian (sard) and the white of the onyx." A sardius is a flesh-colored stone. Thayer says a chrysolyte is "a precious stone of a golden color," and he says a beryl is "a precious stone of a pale green color." A topaz is a stone of a greenish-yellow color as given by Thayer. Chrysoprasus. Thayer defines this as follows: "A precious stone in color like a leek, of a translucent [transparent] golden-green." A jacinth is also the name of_a flower (commonly called a hyacinth). The color of it and the stone by the same name is dark-blue, almost black. Thayer says an amethyst is a precious stone of a violet and purple color.

Verse 21

Every several gate was of one pearl. There is nothing said nor intimated that the gates resembled pearls or were merely as beautiful as pearls. No, the first phrase Isaiah, the twelve gates were twelve pearls. And we should take for granted that the Lord would not use any but genuine pearl, but He would also use the best of it for the construction of a city to be the eternal home of the redeemed, where they are to share the glory with Him and all the celestial beings that He has created. I will quote from Smith"s Bible Dictionary some information about pearls: "The finest specimens of the pearl are yielded by the pearl oyster . . . the oysters grow in clusters on rock in deep water, and the pearl is found inside the shell, and is the result of a diseased secretion caused by the introduction of foreign bodies, etc, between the mantle and the shell . . . The size of a good Oriental pearl varies from that of a pea to about three times that . . . Pearls have been valued as high as $200,000 apiece." Now let us do some calculating and try to form some idea of the beauty and value of just the gates to the celestial city. Everything thus far has been in the proportions that would be required for beauty, hence these gates would be of the width and height that would not be out of proportion. In a wall fifteen hundred miles high and two hundred and sixteen feet thick, any opening of ordinary dimensions would look like a tunnel more than an entrance to a city of residence. We are not given the actual dimensions of the gates, but in order to bring them near enough for us to do some kind of calculating, we know they would not have been less than a hundred feet wide and two hundred feet high. If a pearl three times the size of a pea is worth two hundred thousand dollars, then one pearl as large as I have suggested (and doubtless these gates were larger) would be worth many times more than all the wealth of the world, and besides this, there were twelve of these costly gems. I would be willing to give a year or more of the severest kind of service just to see one of those gates.

Verse 22

I saw no temple. John was thinking of the temple that was in the literal city of Jerusalem, and was contrasting that situation with what he saw in the vision. Even that temple which was built for the service to God was not good enough nor big enough to contain Him ( 1 Kings 8:27; Acts 7:47-50), much less would He need a temple to confine him when He is already occupying the whole city.

Verse 23

The sun, moon and stars were necessary to give light upon the earth, but that planet will have passed away. The light that would be adapted to glorified residents of the eternal city would need to be more brilliant than a multitude of suns such as we now see. But the city will not be without light for the glory of God and the Son will lighten it. Think of a Being so bright and glorious that its rays would reach from wall to wall in a city1,500 miles wide. No wonder Moses was not per- mitted to come within the rays of that glory.

Verse 24

Nations and kings of the earth will not come into the city literally, for those relationships are of a temporal nature. This verse is based on the practice in ancient times that required a captive city to pay tribute to a city that had overcome it. Doubtless there will be men who had been kings, and others who were citizens of the nations ruled by these kings, who will have become servants of God and who will be among the many thousands who will throng that city.

Verse 25

The gates shall not be shut at all by day (or day by day). This also is based upon the practice of ancient cities closing their gates at the approach of night ( Joshua 2:5). John says there will not be any need for such a performance, for there shall be no night there. It is his way of emphasizing the absence of night, for there will be no enemy who could enter the city any way.

Verse 26

This is the same as verse24.

Verse 27

The evils named have been fully described previously, but I will cite the remarks at verse8 about liars. Those whose names are in the book of life is explained at Revelation 20:15.

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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Revelation 21". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.