Yesterday, we looked at the fate of those who remain opposed to God. Over the next two days, we end on a much brighter note – the future that awaits those who are faithful to God, and worship him only.
Revelation 21:1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
The chapter begins with a new heaven and a new earth, replacing or renewing the former ones. Although surfers may be disappointed that there’s no longer any sea, don’t panic: it’s symbolic. The sea symbolises the evil forces of chaos – just like in the creation story, where God subdued the chaos of the waters and caused dry land to appear.
Revelation 21:2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
The New Jerusalem comes down from heaven – this is significant, showing that it’s a gift from God, not a rebuilt human city. (And definitely not Babel, which was built from the earth up!) But it’s still coming down to the material universe, rather than taking people away to a spiritual existence. We’re not going to be angels playing harps on clouds (and eating light cream cheese).
Isaiah’s imagery is profoundly earthly, and such also is John’s intention. There is no reason for us to believe that John is intentionally transporting Isaiah’s vision into another world to come. The concern of the Apocalypse is not so much the creation of another world (a “next world”) into which the church is called to escape. The whole point of John’s writing is that it is in this world, in this human history, that the power of the Lord will be seen. It is for this reason that the triumphant church is not transported into the new Jerusalem, transported into the next world, but that the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven. (A. Boesak, Comfort and protest, 129)
The city is a bride—in contrast to the whore of Babylon (the evil city) that you may remember from earlier in the week.
Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”
“Dwelling place” is literally “tent,” evoking the image of God living among his people in the wilderness.
Leviticus 26:11-12 I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. 12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.
Ezekiel 37:27-28 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
The curse of death – back in Genesis 3 – is undone:
Revelation 21:4 “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
The world is recreated, back to the way God intended it:
Revelation 21:5-8 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.”
God is now the Alpha and Omega – the creator has become the finisher!
The water of life possibly symbolises the Spirit, and reminds us of Jesus’ promise of “living water” back in John 4.
Revelation 21:9-14 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The angel who gives the tour is also the angel in 17:1 who gave the tour of Babylon the harlot, emphasising the comparison. The twelve gates (and angels, and tribes, and foundations, and apostles) represent the people of God, both old and new.
Revelation 21:15-21 The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17 The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits thick. 18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.
The dimensions are reflective of the whole people of God (cf. the 144,000 back in 7:4–8).
The emphasis on its beauty – especially the prevalence of precious stones and metals – is meant to put Rome’s claim as the eternal city to shame. Note the connection between the description of Eden found in Ezekiel 28 (but talking about the ancient city of Tyre, in Lebanon) and the abundance of precious stones:
Ezekiel 28:13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
The description continues:
Revelation 21:22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
There’s no temple because the whole city and its people are holy. There is no separation between God and his people. (This is different from OT and Jewish expectations, which envisage a temple.)
Revelation 21:23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
There’s no sun or moon, since God is the direct source of life and light. Who needs them? (Take special note, those in John’s audience contemplating a return to worshipping the pagan gods with their connection to celestial bodies. You’re buying a model that will soon be superseded!)
Revelation 21:24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it.
This is the fulfilment of the ideal for Israel’s king, expressed most clearly in Solomon’s coronation Psalm:
Psalm 72:8-11 May he rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. 9 May the desert tribes bow before him and his enemies lick the dust. 10 May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. 11 May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him.
…as well as in Isaiah:
Isaiah 61:4-6 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. 5 Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. 6 And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.
There will be an open-door policy:
Revelation 21:25-26 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
You don’t need to shut the gates if there are no dangers lurking outside – because, you may recall, anything evil and opposed to God got chucked into a fiery lake a couple of chapters back. And although there being no night sounds a little Guantanamo Bay-like, night is symbolic of evil and opposition to God.
Revelation 21:27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Finally, Jerusalem is purified, because only those made holy by the Lamb are there.
We’ll continue with John’s description tomorrow.