THE NEW JERUSALEM (21:1-8)
1. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, 4. and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death, there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain, the first things have passed away.” 5. And He who sits on the throne said: “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said: “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6. And He said to me: “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7. “He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8. “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
The Bible is a book of themes. One of the most common themes that weaves its way through scripture is the theme of the warrior King who: 1, raises His people up from death, 2, defeats His enemies, 3, takes for Himself the spoils of war, and, 4, builds His temple house. We can see this theme in the story of the Exodus. After the baptismal resurrection of the Israelites through the Red Sea and the destruction of Egypt, Moses exclaims: “The Lord is a warrior.” (Ex 15:3). The Israelites take all the valuables out of Egypt (Ex 3:21-22, 11:1-2, 12:35-36) and much of it is given over to the building of the Tabernacle, God’s house (Ex 35:21-29, 36:3-8). God finally consummates His house with fire (Ex 40:34).
This pattern is repeated in the story of David and Solomon. David acts as God’s warrior (2Sa 5:22-25), gathering the spoils of war for the building of God’s house. Solomon builds the Lord’s house (2Sa 7:12-13), and it is consummated by fire (2Ch 7:1-3).
Ezekiel continues this theme in his prophecies. In Ezekiel 37, he sees a vision of Israel in exile, looking like a valley of dried bones. God performs the miracle of recreation and turns them into a great army (Eze 37:10) and David again rules Israel. In Ezekiel 38, there is war against Gog of the land of Magog, and Gog is destroyed by fire from heaven (Eze 38:22). The spoils of the war are taken by the Israelites and Gog’s armies are eaten by the birds (Eze 39). Ezekiel 40-48 describe the opening of the ideal temple in which God dwells (Eze 43:1-7) and sends blessings out to the ends of the world via the river of life emanating from the holy of holies (Eze 47:1-12).
John has already used this theme in Revelation 11. In that passage, the two witnesses are resurrected, the kingdom comes, God’s anger falls on the nations, and the temple is opened. In Revelation 20, the theme and Ezekiel’s visions have also been in John’s thinking. The saints participate in the first resurrection, they reign with God, they are attacked by Gog and Magog (who are destroyed by fire from heaven) and, BANG, here we are in Revelation 21 at the opening of the temple. This act of opening the temple signifies the authority and presence of God in His people on earth (Mt 28:18). Next, the river of life heals the nations, which signifies ever-spreading world salvation (Mt 28:19). Finally, the nations willingly bring their treasures into the house of God, signifying the nations’ cultural submission to the laws of God (Mt 28:20). Adam’s original task is completed.
In this, John’s seventh vision, we are told of the appearance of a new heaven and a new earth, the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. This statement has created a lot of division and confusion in eschatological circles as it tends to suggest the replacement of this world with another physical earth of a different type. This is yet another example of not understanding the idioms of the Bible and of not doing enough digging in the Old Testament to find out the meaning of similar phraseology in past writings. To give a modern example of a similar term may help launch our study of the concept. The term ‘new world’ is used in modern English in reference to North and South America. To someone unfamiliar with English idioms, this phrase could be completely misinterpreted, so it is with John’s terminology, cultural familiarity helps dispel textual confusion.
To begin the discussion, the Greek word used for new is not ‘neos’, meaning ‘chronological newness’, but ‘kainos’, which means ‘newness in kind’, or, ‘of a superior quality’. In other words, John sees a better-quality, superior earth and heaven, not the future earth yet to appear. John is telling the Church of present realities, of a world that is of the spiritual quality God wanted and died for (Col 1:19-20). This idea is parallel to the thinking behind 2 Corinthians 5:17, where Paul describes anyone in Christ as a new creature, a phrase no interpreter would dream of taking as a physical, literal occurrence. It is a way of describing a superior spiritual state, and that is precisely the way John uses the “new heaven” and the “new earth”.
In fact, the use of recreation and de-creation terminology is common throughout scripture to describe the process of salvation and judgment. Consider the beautiful prophecy in Isaiah 65:17-25, from where John draws the “new heaven” and “new earth”. A true understanding of this passage is pivotal in drawing any conclusions about Revelation 21:1. In Isaiah’s prophecy, God declares that He will create new heavens and a new earth, yet there will still be death (Isa 65:20), and people will still be building houses, planting vineyards, working and having children (Isa 65:21-22). This is a vision of God with men, not men with God in heaven (Isa 65:24). Isaiah is seeing a vision of the fullest extent of the blessings of Deuteronomy 28 in the earth, when salvation permeates all life and culture and the curse is nullified.
Isaiah also uses similar terminology to describe the establishment of His covenant with Israel, which is a provisional salvation (Isa 51:15-16, the bracketed words are mine): “And I have put My words in your mouth (given Israel the law) and have covered you with the shadow of my hand (delivered Israel from its enemies), to establish the heavens, to found the earth (establish correct worship, government and Godly order out of paganism via the vehicle of the Israelite state), and say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’ The end purpose of this process is Edenic closeness which is salvation.
Jeremiah gives us an extremely convincing use of this heaven and earth terminology as it relates to covenants. In Jeremiah 4:23-31, the prophet looks and sees four things. Firstly, the earth is formless and void, and the light was gone from the heavens. Secondly, the mountains were quaking and the hills moved to and fro. Thirdly, there was no man, nor were there any birds in the sky. Fourthly, the fruitful land was a wilderness, and all its towns were pulled down before the Lord and His fierce anger. These four different expressions describe the one event, an historical judgment on Israel in 587 BC. As distinct from a new covenant being expressed as a new creation, here is a covenant judgment expressed as a de-creation.
Isaiah 34:4-9 uses similar language, such as stars falling and the sky rolled up, to describe a divine judgment on Edom. Christ also uses this de-creation language in Matthew 24:29 to illustrate the covenant destruction about to befall Jerusalem (sun darkened, moon not giving light, stars falling, heavenly bodies shaken). He is quoting Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the destruction of Babylon, transferring its implications to the new Babylon (Isa 13:10). Ezekiel’s prophecy of Egypt’s pending doom is also couched in this de-creation language (Eze 32:1-15), as is Amos’ prophecy against Samaria (Am 8:7-14).
Moving into the Epistles, we have the example of Peter’s use of “new heavens and a new earth” aligning with the prophets of old. In 2 Peter 3:1-18, Peter uses the flood as an example of the destruction of the world, at that time meaning the civilisation of that time, not the earth, you and me are proof that the physical world did continue. Peter then says the present heavens will disappear, the elements will be destroyed, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. His use of the term ‘elements’ is enough to tell us that he is talking about culture, not physics. The Greek term he uses for elements is ‘stoykion’, which refers to an order or orderly arrangement. All other uses of this very word in the New Testament refer only to covenant matters:
“So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental (stoykion) things of the world.” (Gal 4:3)
“How is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental (stoykion) things?” (Gal 4:9)
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary (stoykion) principles of the world rather than according to Christ.” (Col 2:8)
“Since you died with Christ to the elementary (stoykion) principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to its decrees?” (Col 2:20).
The elements/order/principles that Peter is talking about are the Old Covenant truths that have been superseded. This reading is strengthened by Peter’s insistence that these events were about to befall his readers (2Pe 3:1, 1-14), according to His promise of a new heaven and a new earth. To which promise is Peter referring the reader? The answer to that question completes the circle. It is the promise from Isaiah 65:17 that we have just looked at!
In summary, it can be said with confidence that when mention is made in prophecy of the pending destruction or creation of a political/religious/cultural order, it is often in language that speaks of cosmic creation or destruction. Prophetic idiom equates nations and civilisations with heavens and earth and John remains consistent with the pattern already set. He is telling his readers that the Old Covenant has been replaced with the new world order of Christ. The new creation has begun (Rev 21:4).
Next, the author sees the New Jerusalem come down out of heaven from God to the earth. John is not looking at the structure of heaven or the place where Christians will live after their bodily resurrection. The fundamental teaching of the New Testament, especially the book of Revelation, is that old Jerusalem is about to be executed for her disobedience to the covenant, and New Testament believers have become citizens of a new city, a city whose origins are heavenly but whose existence encompasses the earth (Eph 2:19, Php 3:20). This city is the church. Paul told this to the Galatians in no uncertain terms (Gal 4:22-31), and then repeated it to the Hebrews even more emphatically (Heb 12:22-23): “But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven.” This is the definitive explanation of the New Jerusalem. It is the church of the first-born, Jesus Christ. Any other interpretation is doomed to error, and such errors come from a literalist reading of the text.
John’s next sentence reinforces this Jerusalem/church connection. Firstly, he tells us where this city is heading. It is heading to earth! This cannot be an institution that exists after the end of the world, as it has come from heaven to the earth. Its origin is heaven but its existence is on earth. Secondly, this city is a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. The bride is not in the city, the bride is the city. This is the same bride of Revelation 19:7-9, which we know to be a picture of the saints. This lovely overlapping of images gathers pace in Revelation 21:9.
A voice now addresses John from the throne of God and explains the nature of the vision of verses 1 and 2. In simple terms, God tells John that the New Jerusalem is the tabernacle of God among men “God will dwell among them and they shall be his people.” This is an old and familiar promise to the Covenant faithful, it dates from the Exodus and was reaffirmed in the exile (Lev 26:11-12, Eze 37:26-28). In the New Testament, this promise from the law and the prophets is achieved and established. John understood this fact intimately, for he mentions it in the opening remarks of his gospel (Jn 1:14, see also 14:23): “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Paul also understood the fulfilled nature of the promise, and his teachings are riddled with references to this reality (1Co 3:16, 6:19, 2Co 6:16, Eph 2:19-22). Even Peter made a point of teaching on this truth (1Pe 2:5). The impact of this teaching must have been electrifying to the early Church because most of them had been brought up to believe the existing temple in Jerusalem was the only place on earth where the presence of God dwelt, and that access was barred for all but one soul once a year. For John to tell the churches “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men” was like manna from heaven, the soul of man was now the temple of God. The curtain that divided God and man really had been ripped apart (Mt 27:51, Lk 23:45).
The promise continues with the declaration: “He shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death, there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.” We can look forward to the perfect fulfillment of this statement in eternity. It is true in principle already, for, as Jesus said to Martha (Jn 1:25-26): “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and anyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. He is talking about spiritual life and death, or, in Revelation terms, the first resurrection (Rev 20:5) and the second death (Rev 20:6). The sting of death and mourning has gone for the believer (1Co 15:55-58) and even though we grieve, it is with an assurance of continuing life and eventual reunion (1Th 4:13-14).
The Christian can enjoy these blessings because Christ says the first things have passed away, and: “Behold, I am making all things new.” This statement takes us back to Revelation 21:1, giving us a further insight into what John meant by new heavens and new earth. As stated earlier, it is the Old Covenant order that has vanished, the order that separated God from man and made death such a final separation.
If the old world order has gone, there must be a new world order being established. The declaration of the new, redeemed individual in 2 Corinthians 5:17 now becomes the declaration of the new, redeemed community. The two statements side by side are almost mirror images. Here is the 2 Corinthians 5:17 version, “Therefore if any man is in Christ he is a new creature, the old things passed away, behold, new things have come.” Now here is the Revelation 21:4-5 version, “The first things have passed away…I am making all things new.” Both the individual and the community are recreated, renewed and restored to God in salvation. The restoration has begun and will continue until the end of the age. John is telling his audience that the isolated pockets of spiritual life of the First Century would become dominant in the future as the whole creation is made new.
In Revelation 16:17, old Jerusalem’s destruction is announced with the words: “It is done.” Here we see the reverse announcement, declaring the establishment of the New Jerusalem with the words: “It is done.” The One speaking identifies Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, or the A and Z, and as the beginning and the end, the source, goal and meaning of all things, and the guarantee of the promises being made. At this point, God gives yet another promise to the Church: “I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.” This is a repeat of the same promise Christ made in John’s Gospel. There (Jn 7:37-38 see also 4:14), the apostle indicated that the living water was a picture of the Holy Spirit “whom those who believed in Him were to receive”. This precious gift of the Holy Spirit, our down payment on eternal life, is without cost to us but not to our Lord (1Pe 1:18).
In the seven letters to the churches, blessings were promised to those who overcome, and so it is here. Only the victorious Christians are eligible for their spiritual inheritance. This means that there is only one kind of Christian, the conquering Christian who comes through the trials of life, bears up under opposition, fulfils God’s will in their life, and lives a life of obedience to God’s word. Those who turn back after putting their hand to the plough are disinherited (Lk 8:13, 9:62, Heb 10:32). The early Church needed this chastening message because, with the increase in persecution leading up to the Jewish wars, there would be a great falling away from the faith (Mt 24:12). For those who overcome, God announces that He will give the ultimate, intimate privilege, sonship: “I will be his God and he will be my son.” The highest and fullest enjoyment of this fantastic relationship will take place in heaven, but legally and progressively it is also true now.
“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” What a contrast! This torpedoes any teachings that lean toward a universal salvation for mankind. Every type of non-Christian is covered here, because all are unbelieving. Yet this is not an isolated list, similar passages chronicling the sins of the citizens of the old world order and their destiny include 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:1-12, Colossians 3:5-10, Titus 3:3-8 and Revelation 22:15. These passages speak volumes about the thinking and lifestyles of our 20th Century, as the Greek term for ‘sorcerers’ (‘pharmakoi’) also means ‘abortionist’.
THE NEW JERUSALEM (Rev 21:9-27)
9. And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying: “Come here, I shall show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11.having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 12. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names were written on them, which are those of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. 13. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15. And the one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. 16. And the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width, and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles, its length and width and height are equal. 17. And he measured its wall, seventy two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements. 18. And the material of the wall was jasper, and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19. The foundation stones of the city were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper, the second, sapphire, the third, chalcedony, the fourth, emerald, 20. the fifth, sardonyx, the sixth, sardius, the seventh, chrysolite, the eighth, beryl, the ninth, topaz, the tenth, chrysoprase, the eleventh, jacinth, the twelfth, amethyst. 21. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. 22. And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. 23. And the city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine upon it for the glory of God has illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24. And the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it. 25. And in the daytime (for there shall be no night there) its gates shall never be closed, 26. and they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it, 27. and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
It is fitting that one of the seven angels with the seven bowls begins now to reveal to John the New Jerusalem in its majestic detail, for it was also one of these angels who revealed in detail the vision of Babylon (Rev 17:1). From this point on, the images begin to increasingly overlap and this process begins with the city being described as the bride and the wife of the Lamb.
In contrast to the wilderness, where John saw the harlot (Rev 17:3), the apostle journeys in the Spirit to a great and high mountain. From the commentary on Revelation 14:1 we know that the image of a mountain in scripture begins at the garden of Eden and has come to stand for a place of divine presence, instruction and authority. From this vantage point, John once again sees the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. Given the entrenched nature of some misconceptions, it is worth pointing out a second time that this is not a vision of a future space station or a literal high-tech city floating in mid-air, rather, the passage is designed to show the reader the origin of the church as a creation of God, not man, as an institution that has come to us from the depths of God’s eternal wisdom and as His designated dwelling place on earth (Heb 11:10).
The theme of the ‘Shekinah ‘ glory of God that John now describes runs deep through the Old Testament from the Garden to Ezekiel (Eze 1, 10, 11, 43), and is close to the heart of Jewish tradition. So it is fitting that John now mentions the transfer of the Shekinah glory to this New Testament church. Ezekiel’s writings point to this coming transfer of the Shekinah glory. Ezekiel 10:18-19 shows the departure of the Shekinah glory from the temple to the Mount of Olives (Eze 11:22-23), and toward the end of the book, the Shekinah glory returns from the east to the new temple, the Church (Eze 43:1-5). Interestingly, this event seems to have an actual historical outworking in the years leading up to 70AD. Josephus tells us that on the day of Pentecost in the year 66AD (note the significance of that day 36 years before when the Shekinah glory was poured out on the Church) there was heard a great noise from within the holy of holies, and a voice declaring the vacation of the temple. For the next 3’/2 years, the Shekinah glory rested on the Mount of Olives and people went there to worship (Josephus, “The Jewish War” vi.v.iii). These events must have been happening around about the time John was actually writing Revelation, so there would have been far more than an academic interest in their significance.
John moves on to describe the brilliance of the city, comparing it to a very costly stone—as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. This brilliance parallels the sun that clothed the woman, the Covenant faithful, the Old Testament Church (Rev 12:1). The description of this brilliance as jasper comes to us from Revelation 4:2-3, where the appearance of God on the throne is seen to be like jasper. Therefore, this light is definitely God’s illuminating presence in His Church. This point will need to be remembered when we get to Revelation 21:23.
The twelve stars of the crowned woman in Revelation 12:1 are now replaced with a crown of jeweled walls with twelve gates. This ring of twelve gates also corresponds to the ring of 2×12 elders that encircle the throne in chapter 4:3. Here we have a double-twelve that consists of the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles. The transition from a crown on a woman to a wall around a city is no mere accident, as the ancient standard emblem for a city was the figure of a woman with a crown (Austin Farrar, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine”, (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 215).
That the wall was great and high tells us that the Church is a haven from attack. That the twelve gates had the protection of twelve angels reminds us both of the angelic protection given to the Garden which was the original temple (Ge 3:24). It also reminds us of the angelic command to protect the Church throughout history. The names of the gates of the city are those of the twelve tribes of Israel. This image comes to us from Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple (Eze 48:31-34) and shows us that this city bridges both testaments and covenants, housing all God’s faithful servants within its walls.
The description of the gates is not totally clear in the text above, and perhaps should read: “There were three gates from the east, three from the north, three from the south and three from the west (J. P. Green, ed. “Pocket Interlinear New Testament”, p. 601). Remembering that the city is but the Church, and the Church is but people, this description of the gates paints a picture of people streaming into the Church from the four corners of the earth in fulfillment of one of Christ’s previous prophecies (Mt 24:31, Lk 13:29). John later describes the nations bringing their wealth to the city (Rev 21:24-26), a further illustration of this process.
The foundations of the city also number twelve, and on each foundation stone are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. Ephesians 2:19-22 will be sufficient explanation: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
Earlier, in Revelation 11:1-2, the sanctuary of the true temple had been measured. Now begins the measuring of the whole city, for the entire city is the temple. The city is laid out as a square and it is as long as it is high and wide. This perfect cube is the very same shape as the holy of holies in the original temple, which was twenty cubits in length, twenty cubits in width, and twenty cubits in height (1Ki 6:20). The conclusion leaping from the text is that the New Jerusalem is an eternal holy of holies!
The quoted length of the city is fifteen hundred miles, which, in the original texts, is more accurately stated as twelve thousand stadia, a figure which, with its use of 12 and 1000, can be seen as obviously symbolic. The walls are seventy-two yards which, again in the original, is one hundred and forty-four cubits, a figure using twelve multiplied by twelve, also a symbolic figure (Ibid. p. 602). In fact, the description of the New Jerusalem throughout this chapter is loaded with ten references to the number 12, or multiples thereof. This is a powerful message to the reader that the subject is God’s priestly people (Rev 7:4-8), so the figures mentioned here should be cautiously read in that light. Translators and commentators who take the figures literally and transpose them into modern units do so at their own textual peril. The 12,000 stadia and the 144 cubits are multitudes (Dt 1:11, 5:10, 7:9, Ps 50:10, 68:17, 84:10, 90:4) of God’s people (12 tribes, 12 apostles, 240 priests, 24 elders). Put simply, the city is made of multitudes of covenantal people, God’s faithful people, the Church.
John spends the next four verses describing in detail the streets, walls and gates of the city, and he refers continually to gold, precious stones and jewellery. In doing so, he is drawing on a deep well of symbolism that dates from the Edenic garden (Ge 2:10-12). That original mountain/temple was adorned with gold, bdellium (or pearls), and onyx (Eze 28:13-19). In Exodus, we find the high priest clothed in this Edenic uniform. He has a breastplate, hem bells and a turban plate of gold (Ex 28:15, 33, 36). “And the breastplate housed four rows of three gemstones, one for each tribe of Israel.” (Ex 28:16-21) David’s temple was likewise built using large quantities of gold and precious stones (1Ch 29:2). Israel herself was described as a jewel, and also adorned with jewels prior to her slide into spiritual prostitution (Eze 16:7, 11). John picked up on that same idea when he described Israel the harlot as clothed with gold, precious stones and pearls in Revelation 17:4. It is fitting that this new temple/city should also be adorned with the same beautiful jewels of God’s past covenant temples and brides. The adornments are part of the wedding clothes of the bride, the wife of the Lamb (Rev 17:9), as they have been for any wealthy and important bride throughout the ages. John’s readers were to understand that the jewellery of the prostitute belonged to the King and has been transferred to His rightful bride (1Co 3:12).
The material of the wall was jasper, and the first foundation stone was also jasper, which tells us that this gemstone of the throne is the pre-eminent stone of the city, making it God’s city. We already know of jasper’s association with God’s glory (Rev 4:3, 21:11), but, being at the head of the list of tribal stones, it probably stands also for Judah and its Lion.
The apostles were previously mentioned as the twelve foundations of the city walls (Rev 21:14) and now the tribal gemstones are also used to name the twelve foundations. This tells us that the names of the apostles can be substituted for the names of the tribes, and that this city can be regarded as twelve mystical companies gathered around the apostles.
The original garden contained gold nuggets, the tabernacle contained golden instruments, and Solomon’s temple was clad in gold. However, the consummate temple/city is made completely of pure gold like clear glass. Thus, the Church is the definitive temple of God, not to be replaced or superseded with a better version. The holiness and righteousness of this pure gold cannot be surpassed. It is like our pure righteousness. It comes from God.
The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate a single pearl. Obviously, these gates are ornamental and not designed to defend the city, since the city is to embrace the whole world. The gates are also the only access points to the city and remind us of the pearl of great price (Mt 13:45). The man in the parable sold everything he had to secure his salvation, as represented by the pearl. John is saying that the pearl of salvation is the only way into the kingdom/city.
John now deems it necessary to go over familiar ground by stating again that: “I saw no temple in it.” The ancient world was full of temples and many cities competed to see which would have the biggest and brightest temple, much like the tall building mania of today. John’s emphasis on the lack of a temple was designed to rattle the cultural expectations of his audience. He says, in effect: “Hey look, no temple! Our God is our temple so please don’t go and building Christian temples. There is no need for this.” For the first several hundred years of Church history, his advice was heeded. However, since then the cathedrals have gone up, factions have begun splitting, and the world has been given a false concept of the Church.
John’s last description of the nature of this majestic temple/city/bride extends his description of the Shekinah glory mentioned earlier. In describing the city, he says the glory of God has illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb. Many have made the mistake of assuming John is talking about the natural light source of a physical city, but Revelation is a theological book of exquisite symbolism and the symbol of light must be explored within its Biblical context.
To begin with, God can only be understood by us humans if He describes Himself in terms that originate from within the creation, hence, God describes Himself as a fire (Dt 4:24), a rock (Ps 18:2), bread (Jn 6:35), a gate (Jn 10:7), a grape vine (Jn 15:1), light (Jn 9:5), and so on. God is not literally those things, but the images help our inadequate, earth-centric minds to get an inkling of the personality of our Creator. Light tells us about God’s royal glory and majesty (Ps 27:1, 84:11) and also the righteous spiritual life that exists in God only through Christ. It is the opposite of the darkness of sin and spiritual death (Isa 60:1-3, 19-20, Jn 1:4, 8:12, 2Co 4:6, Eph 5:14). John is using an image familiar to his audience (and one that he had used previously more than any other New Testament writer) to tell the seven churches that the righteous life of God will shine out through the vehicle of the church to a dark world (Mt 5:14-16): “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden … let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
The symbols that John took from Isaiah 60 in writing Revelation 21:22-23 continue now through to the end of the chapter. The bringing of gifts to the church by the nations (Isa 60:7-9,1la) and the eternally open gates (Isa’ 60:11) are a picture of the gradual success of the Church’s evangelistic efforts through the ages. The gates of the city of the Lamb are always open because the Father of the Groom has sent his servants out to the streets of the world to invite anyone they can find (Ps 96:3, Mt 22:8-10, 24:31, Rev 12:13). The historical success of this venture is hinted at in the response of the nations to the invitation: “For and the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it… and they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.” The treasures that God is interested in are the hearts and souls of humanity, so these nations are bringing their people into the Church in accordance with the mission statement of Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” All nations—bar none—will bring their treasures into the kingdom of God (Ps 2:8, 22:27, Isa 9:7, 11:9, 42:4, 55:5, 60:22, Da 2:44-45, Mai 1:11, Mk 4:31-32, Lk 24:47, Rev 14:6).
As the light of the Gospel shines through the Church to the world, the world will be converted and the nations discipled. This is the basic promise of Scripture from beginning to end. It is the pattern of history and the direction in which the world is moving. This is our future and the heritage of many generations to come.
This migration into the city of God is taking place in our era, and not in some future eon. This fact is reinforced by the continuing existence of people in nations, and by sin in the world around the new Jerusalem. John highlights the righteousness/sin dichotomy by saying of the New Jerusalem that “nothing unclean . . . shall ever come’ into it”, and he immediately lists several examples of the sins he means and contrasts them with those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. There is only one way to have one’s name written in this Lamb’s book of life, salvation through Christ (Jn 10:7).
PARADISE RESTORED (Rev 22:1-5)
1. And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb,2. in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3. And there shall no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him, 4. and they shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads. 5. And there shall no longer be any night, and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illuminate them, and they shall reign forever and ever.
These first few verses of Revelation 22 are a continuation of the vision of the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and John continues to lean heavily on imagery from Ezekiel’s visions for his description of the city of God. Firstly, he sees the river of life flowing from the throne of God. This image comes originally from the Garden of Eden, where springs of water welled up out of the ground (Ge 2:6), formed into a river (Ge 2:10), then divided into four to flow down from the mountain to bless the four corners of the world. More importantly, however, John is focusing the reader’s attention on the now-familiar vision of the new temple in Ezekiel 47. In that vision, Ezekiel saw the temple laver tipped over (Eze 47:1) and the water begin to flow east toward the Dead Sea. As it flowed, it got deeper and deeper and trees sprang up on each side and bore fruit. Most of the Dead Sea was made fresh and aquatic life multiplied. This was Ezekiel’s veiled description of the New Testament era, when people would no longer have to go to the temple in Jerusalem to be cleansed, but the cleansing power of God would flow out to the whole world in similar fashion to the four rivers of Eden. John is telling the Church that the time of the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision is at hand. He declares that the river of life, the Holy Spirit promised by Christ to every believer (Jn 4:13-14, 7:38), would flow from the human temple of God out to the world and bring the life of God to a dead world. The potential of Eden is the reality of the New Testament era.
Ezekiel, in his temple vision, tells of the many trees that will grow on each side of the river of life. He describes them as fruit trees that bear fruit every month, whose leaves will not wither but will be for healing. In making this description, Ezekiel was building on the writings of David (Ps 1:1-3) and Jeremiah (Je 17:7). John takes up this theme and adds only one point—that the leaves were for the healing of the nations. The healing power of the tree is another way of indicating that, with eternal life, there will be the alleviation of spiritual sickness from among the nations of the earth. The picture of fruit every month portrays a never-ending supply of eternal life available to all who eat.
Though some translations read as if there is only one tree of life beside the river, this is not the way John wrote his vision. He was consistent with Ezekiel in saying that the trees were on each side of the river. A look at the Greek original highlights the plural nature*of the description of the trees: ‘Here and there a tree of life.’ The message John is trying to make is that whereas there was one tree of life in the Garden, now there is a veritable forest of them. The blessings of Eden are the super-blessings of Christ (Ro 5:15-18) and the Church is now feasting on that fruit that was forbidden to Adam (Ge 3:22-23).
What exactly are this tree and its fruit? It is the eternal life the believer enjoys in the presence of God. Adam’s sin at the tree separated him from eternal life and God. Christ’s death on the second tree (Ac 5:30, 10:39, 13:29, Gal 3:13, 1Pe 2:24) brought us into the eternal life with God that begins now (Jn 3:14-16, Tit 3:5).
John’s use of Edenic images in these first few verses of chapter 22 is designed to convey the message that humanity is spiritually back in the garden of Eden through Christ. In the fullness of time, it will be true physically also. Unlike the original creation, which was instant, this new creation is progressive and has been slowly transforming the world for the past 2000 years. It will continue to do so for a long time to come, until the whole of humanity and creation is aligned with the original will of God.
The references to the river of the water of life and the tree of life are now followed by the strongest possible pronouncement: “There shall no longer be any curse.” This is one of the final declarations made in Revelation concerning the spiritual state of the Christian. The New Testament has already been telling Christians many aspects of this new creation. It has declared that the eternal life of Eden has been restored (Ge 3:22-23, Ro 5:17, 1Co 15:21, Rev 3:4-6, 4:4-5). Secondly, it has said that the Christian has been recreated in God’s image (Ge 1:27, 2Co 3:18, 5:17, Col 3:10). Thirdly, we are told that we have been re-clothed in the righteousness of God (Ge 3:7, Ro 13:14