‘Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’, Matt. 6. 10. This prayer longs for the consummation of the complex course of history which began with the creation of the heavens and the earth recorded in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. There, ‘In the beginning’, God created and commissioned the first man as His vice-regent, granting him as head over all things a joint-heir partner to share in his God-given glory. Satan’s early spoiling of this, when through that first man sin came into the world and death by sin, has not rendered null and void the original purpose of God. In fact, where sin abounded grace has superabounded! Mankind will neither be destroyed nor dispossessed of the habitation and mastery of the earth which was committed to him at the beginning of history. God is to have the victory and the glory, as the nature and effect of His creatorial and redemptive programme goes beyond the restoration of what was shattered and spoiled through Satan’s wiles.
The administration of the age yet to come has not been committed to angels but to men, Heb. 2. 5-10. Dominion over a universal kingdom including the ‘all things’ that are in the heavens and upon the earth is the divinely purposed glory reserved for the Second Man, the Lord from Heaven, 1 Cor. 15. 45-49. And the Second Man is not to be alone in this, for God is bringing many sons to share this glory as Christ’s appointed joint-heirs. Israel also, as a nation on earth, will then enjoy times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord and the restitution of all things of which God spoke through His prophets since the world began. The nations of the earth shall be blessed also, through Abraham’s seed, Acts 3. 17-26. Even creation itself is to be delivered from its bondage into liberty when the glory of the children of God is manifested, Rom. 8. 19-25. Thus in the dispensation of the fullness of the times God will gather together in one all things in the Christ, those in heaven and on earth. The ascended and glorified Christ is to receive the kingdom from God, Luke 19. 11. Following upon His second coming He is to administer the Kingdom for God. Only at the conclusion of that messianic millennial reign of glory do we read, Then cometh the end, when he (Christ) shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father’, 1 Cor. 15. 24. The end of the beginning will have arrived!
The prophetic descriptions concerning the messianic kingdom of God are many-coloured and marvellous, but the last vision revealed to John’s wondering eyes by his angel-guide is the most fascinating of all. The Lord God Almighty indeed has kept the best until last. It is a city-satellite of pure gold which John describes. For this he required the Spirit’s initiative in his illumination, the fourth and final experience of this for him in Revelation, see 1. 10; 4. 4; 17. 3; 21. 10 (in Grk. ‘Spirit’ has no definite article in any of these). The angel relocated him for this most glorious of visions: he ‘carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high’.2 Such an earthly vantage-point was necessary from which to take in the ‘great city’ descending from heaven and still viewed as from below it. This angel-servant’s particular role was to show him the bride/wife/city of glory.
How different is the role of one of the angels which had the seven bowls, who said to John in chapter 17: ‘Come hither, I will shew thee the judgement of the great harlot [porne] that sitteth upon many waters… . And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness’, vv. 1-3. The God, of whom judgement is described as His ‘strange work’, would now use the same servant-angel to unfold the glory of His mercy and grace to John, so that through the one messenger he might take in both ‘the goodness and severity of God’.
This last angelic invitation is designed to recall the similar appeal opening chapter 17, thus helping us to see that the first eight verses of chapter 21 form the concluding climax of a sequential series of visions. These open with the judgement of Babylon the great, the mother of harlots on earth, and conclude with the making of all things new, including the new heaven and the new earth wherein righteousness dwells, and ‘the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband’.3 The revelation of the purposes of God, and of His sovereign interventions throughout the course of history in effecting these, provide the substance of the word of God from Genesis chapter 1 through to Revelation chapter 20. Only then will the One who is ‘the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end’, roll up as an old garment ‘the first heaven and the first earth’ and bring in the new, 21. 1-8. The fresh section marker at chapter 21. 9-10, therefore, is designed to engage our minds and hearts, as was John’s, with ‘the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God’. It is only the cursory reader who will equate this with ‘the new Jerusalem’, for the word ‘new’ [kainos] does not appear once in this vision, 21. 9-22. 5; ct. 21. 1(2), 2, 5.4
Description of the Holy City Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven from God, Rev. 21. 9-22. 5.
This ‘holy city Jerusalem’ is the heavenly administrative centre over the heavens and earth during the manifest kingdom of God. The great city’s description, 21. 9-21, along with its many privileges, vv. 22-27, glow with the glory of God radiating through the redeemed. A supplementary vision features the throne as the source of the river of blessing which in turn fructifies the tree of life, 22. 1-2, and highlights even more privileges, vv. 3-5. Concurrently, ‘the beloved city’, 20. 9, that is, the earthly Jerusalem,5 is where the Messiah will reign from the throne of His father David, and where He will build the temple and bear the glory as Son of God and King of Israel. This will be uninterruptedly linked with the heavenly city of pure gold by angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, cf. John 1. 47-51, the heavenly Jerusalem providing a kind of satellite canopy above the earthly Jerusalem, cf. Isa. 4. 6. Myriads of angels then will have a serving role, while it is out of this holy city come down out of heaven that the ‘habitable world’ in that day is to be governed by glorified men, the assembly of the firstborn ones and not any more by angels, Heb. 2. 5-9 (see on v. 5 JND note a; cf. RV Marg; [Grk. ‘oikoumeme]); Ps. 8. 3-8; cf. Rev. 11. 15. The city of pure gold itself symbolizes the bride, and in including all the glorified saints is eternal in character and in destiny (hence its place as ‘new Jerusalem’ also in the new heaven and new earth of the eternal state, 21. 1-8). However, its form and functions during the dispensation [Grk. loikonomia, see VINE, UNGER, WHITE, EDBW 174; AGD 559 2. b] of the fullness of the times, that is, the millennium, call for certain distinctive features. These are described in considerable detail from chapter 21 verses 9 to 27.
This city is called ‘the bride, the wife of the Lamb, the holy city Jerusalem’, v. 10. It is a city having the glory of God and also walls and gates, vv. 11-14, the precise measurements of which are given, vv. 15-17, and the precious materials from which the wall, its foundations and gates, the city and its street are made, vv. 18-21. John noted also what is absent from the city and why, vv. 22-23, and what positive features it has or demands such as light, homage, liberty, holiness and life, vv. 24-27. The throne of God and of the Lamb is in it, out of which a pure river of water of life proceeds in the midst of its street of gold. Additional revelations are then granted the seer concerning its river-sides where the tree of life proliferates, 22. 1-2. Here the curse is removed and the Lord’s servants serve Him, seeing His face in the light and enjoying perfect communion with Him with whom they shall reign for ever and ever, vv. 3-5. Those who are privileged to partake in the blessedness of the manifest kingdom of God on earth will ‘walk by the light’ of that city, and ‘the kings of the earth’ shall bring their glory to [1eis= ‘unto’, AGD; JND] it, 21. 24; ct. Zech. 14. 16ff.
The angel indeed ‘shewed’ John this as he had promised him, vv. 9-10.
Consider the three participles by which John connects three unique endowments of this city, vv. 1, 12a, 12b; cf. Ezek. 40. 2.
Firstly, he saw
A City – HAVING the Glory of God
Through it God’s variegated perfections radiated in all their dazzling splendour, v. 11; cf. the earthly Jerusalem in her time of kingdom glory, Isa. 60. 1; Ezek. 43. 5. We are hardly surprised that the city appeared thus, for it was ‘coming down out of heaven from God’. Earlier, when John had been urged to come up into the very throne-room of heaven and did so ‘in the Spirit’, he saw the One who sat upon the throne ‘was to look upon like a jasper stone and a sardius’. These precious stones were used as similes to describe the impression made by divine glory as it was revealed to man, 4. 3. Hence the city having the glory of God is a luminary [phoster, only elsewhere at Phil. 2. 15*] in which light is concentrated and from which it radiates, which is itself ‘like unto a stone most (superlatively) precious, as it were a jasper [iaspis] stone, clear crystal’, Rev. 21. 11. It is as colourful in its attractiveness as it is crystal clear in its transparency. God puts His own glory upon all His glorified people who are represented by this city, the symbol of an ordered community with administrative privilege and responsibility to show forth the glories of God and the Lamb and to share in the interests and activities of the Lamb in blessing. Those who being sinners by nature and practice had fallen ‘short of the glory of God’, Rom. 3. 23, but who now as saints in this life ‘rejoice in hope of the glory of God’, 5. 2, are at last to be displayed in all the resplendence of the glory of God. Throughout the millennium this city, whose builder and maker is God, is the special object of the affections of the Lamb whose bride and wife she is.
John’s angel-guide is seen equipped with a surveyor’s reed (a standard length of about ten feet) most appropriately all of gold to measure the city having the glory of God, v. 15a. The proportions of the city, its gates and walls are such as to baffle the human mind. The plan of the city is foursquare and its height also is the same as its length and breadth, v. 16. Surely eye has never seen a city which is of such immense proportions in plan and elevation, 12,000 furlongs (in order of 1400 miles!) in its horizontal and vertical planes. Here is perfect symmetry on an unparalleled scale. We are being conducted into the territory of the transcendent, and yet we are encouraged through symbolism to grasp what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the mystery. The pure gold city is a cube, perfect in all its aspects and a veritable holy of holies altogether suited for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb to become the sole temple of it, v. 22.
The city itself and also the street of the city are of pure gold, like unto pure or transparent glass, vv. 18b, 21c-d. All is designed to transmit without hindrance or distortion the glory of God in the form of light. But is not this city the bride? How pure the soul must be, how perfectly conformed to the image of God’s Son, how transparent in worship and ways, to live with calm delight in this community of radiancy. What God has willed He also has wrought to the praise of His glory. Even the saved nations of the earth shall walk in its light and under its influence, v. 24a.
Secondly, it was:
A City – HAVING a Wall Great and High
This wall is not required for the protection of the city against enemy attack. Rather, it maintains a distinct line of demarcation between the heavenly and the earthly, accentuating the holiness of the Holy One in His own city-sanctuary. The dimensions of the wall, while not given here, v. 12a, are found in verses 17-20, and their total length is to be derived from the ‘footprint’ measure of the city which the wall surrounds, v. 16. The height of the surrounding wall is measured by the angel and is one hundred and forty four cubits, v. 17. The material from which it is made is the precious jasper, radiating the glory of God’s sovereignty. The wall was supported by twelve solid foundations, inscribed with ‘the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb’, v. 14a-b. These were the twelve who had continued with their Lord in His trials and who had been appointed not only a place in His kingdom but to ‘sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel’, Luke 22. 30. They are assured that ‘in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’, Matt. 19. 28.6 The twelve precious stones upon the high priest’s breastplate that were engraved with the names of twelve tribes symbolized their own preciousness and their sympathetic priestly support in the presence of God, Exod. 28. 15-21. Two thirds of those stones named in the priest’s breastplate in the Greek Old Testament have their counterparts in the list of precious foundation stones in our chapter. The preciousness of each of the apostles is quite as distinctive as each of the twelve different precious stones representing them suggests, Rev. 21. 19-20. The many-coloured glory of God adorning the kingdom administration is to shine out through the foundational princely roles of the apostles of the Lamb. Regarding the foundations of this wall, the details are ‘sandwiched’ between the number of its gates, their allocation and distribution.
Thirdly, though walled it was:
A City – HAVING Twelve Gates
These ‘gates’, v. 12b, are strictly gateways, portals [pulon]7 after the pattern of the earthly millennial temple described in Ezekiel, and are quite elaborate structures. They provide ample access. On duty here ‘at’ [epi perhaps better ‘upon’) the gates twelve angels’, v. 12c, who gladly accept this subservient role on the gate-towers in the wall of the holy city. It is an inestimable privilege to be a porter/doorkeeper in the earthly city which God has chosen for Himself, expressed in the words ‘I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem’, Isa. 62. 6; cf. 2 Chr. 8. 14. Yet this is but the threshold, relating to the city that has descended from heaven almost as outer courts. How much more privileged, then, is the divine appointing of serving angels as guards of honour and porters at those gateways to which ['eis] the kings of the earth are to bring their glory and honour?, vv. 24b, 26.
Each of the twelve gates is made of one pearl. The accentuation of the pearl’s symbolism is evident by the impossibly colossal proportions involved, v. 19. How, then, is the precious, beautiful and costly pearl produced? The layers of nacre successively built up around a grain of sand which causes pain and injury to the inward parts of a living oyster results in the production of a precious pearl. The larger, the more irregular the irritant, the greater the pain caused, and the more layers of nacre are required to cover the offender. What agonies were suffered by the Lord to produce such priceless coverings as are symbolized by these twelve gates of pearl! And we learn that these gates are inscribed with the names of ‘the twelve tribes of the children of Israel’, v. 12d-e; cf. Ezek. 48. 31.8 Clearly, then, these ‘pearly’ gates represent the priceless beauties and perfections of the glorified and redeemed of Israel who provide the communication links with the nation and the city of the great King on earth. Their prayer will have been uniquely answered, ‘Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us’, Ps. 90. 16-17. For they, also, are the creation of the same One who agonized to make the assembly of the glorified redeemed suited for heavenly administration of His millennial glory. The messianic merchantman seeking for goodly pearls, in finding them has paid an infinite price to further beautify the links between the heavenly and earthly in His kingdom. Biblical usage suggests that twelve is the divinely chosen number to represent governmental perfection. As for the arrangement of the gates, ‘on the east were three gates; and on the north three gates; and on the south three gates; and on the west three gates’. The ingress and egress points to the city of pure gold within the walls provides equally for each of the four cardinal points, v. 13.9 The royal-priestly blessedness of its universal administration is to spread out through all the earth via the glorified of Israel and their appointed enthroned leaders represented by the glorified apostles. And the gates are never shut in that sphere which knows no darkness, being bathed in the eternal light of the excelling glory of God. Then indeed the knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ includes more references to the ‘gold’ theme than all the other New Testament writings together. We turn to it yet again to joy in the Spirit’s grand thematic finale in the vision of the city of pure gold coming down out of heaven from God. References to ‘gold’ [Drk. chruseos 15x; chrusion, 3x] in Revelation are: 1. 12, 13, 20; 2. 1; 3. 18; 4. 4; 5. 8; 8. 3(2); 9. 7; 9. 13, 20; 14. 14; 15. 6, 7; 17. 4(2): 18. 12. 16(2);21. 15; 21. 18, 21. The underlined references include other Creek words derived from the same stem which are: chrusos(alone), 2x. 9. 7: 18. 12: chrusos with verb chrusoo(2). 2x each, 17. 4; 18. 6 also see the precious stones: chrusolithos, 21. 20; chrusoprasos, 21. 20.
The holy mountain of God was associated with Jerusalem’s glorious day, Ps. 48. 1 (2); Isa. 2. 2; Ezek. 17. 23; 28. 14. Note that from this vantage-point John is describing the city having the glory of God from beneath it.
John, by means of his characteristic ‘And I saw’ [kai eidon], describes the several scenes, 17. 3b, 6; 18. 1 (+‘After these things’); 19. 1 (‘After these things’ only), 11, 17, 19; 20. 1, 4, 11, 12; 21. 2. Consecutively, triumphant climactic events are unveiled which are to complete and close the book of salvation history, the proof being in the closing vision in which time is no more, the never-ending eternal state has begun. No such literary features appear from chapter 21. 9 onward. John recapitulates in 21. 9-22. 5, for it is this which is the triumphant and true climax of history, the vision of the faithful fulfilment of all the prophecies and promises with respect to the first heavens and earth.
In Revelation four descriptive titles are given to convey the blessed sphere of abiding bliss: note their associations are chiasti'cally ordered: i) and iv) millennial; ii) and iii) eternal, thus: i) the paradise of my God, 2. 7, the habitat of the tree of life ii) the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, 3. 12 – also iii) the holy city, new Jerusalem, 21. 2, its new quality adapting it to the eternal tabernacle of God with men; no more death so no tree of life; this involves another ‘coming down out of heaven from God’ v) the holy city Jerusalem, 21. JO, the habitat of the tree of life, 22. 2 the heavenly and holy administrative centre for the millennial kingdom with well-founded walls, gates and the tree of life(infer its removal before the first earth and heaven fled away). There is no record of either wall or gates in the new Jerusalem of the eternal state, 21. 1-8, where the provision of such a sizeable wall of separation seems inappropriate when the tabernacle of God is eternally with men!
What a dramatic change has taken place in the Jerusalem spiritually designated as Sodom and Egypt, and where our Lord was crucified through the divine intervention in salvation, ct. 11. 8. Such a hope was recorded about 160 BC describing a Jerusalem which God was to establish for the abode of Messiah and the transformed and glorified Israel (though as a one and only advent!, 1 Enoch 90. 28-38. The same writer prophesied the conversion of the Gentiles following the setting up of the holy city, also Tob. 14. 6).
The wall and its foundations do not portray the continuity of Israel and the church as the one people of God. Such confusion results where the distinctives of both continuity and discontinuity are not apprehended. It is in the millennium particularly that the variegated glories of God’s grace, His many-coloured gifts and calling that are without repentance are to have their distinctive and united presentation. In our passage alone the special place of the twelve tribes of the glorified of Israel who had been promised a heavenly city, the unique administrative glory of twelve of her sons who were promised thrones and a reigning role by their Messiah and Lord though the founding apostles of His assembly, together with the pure gold city/bride assembly and the nations and kings of the earth are all separately identifiable and distinctively blessed.
In Revelation the word for ‘gate'[pulon] is used 11 times, all referring to those featured in the walls of the millennial city, 21. 12(2), 13(4), 15, 21(2), 25; 22. 14. Originally the word referred to a gate-tower or gate-house, the cognate noun [pule] being reserved for the gate itself. This distinction was not rigidly maintained in the NT period, and the ‘gates’ each comprising one gigantic inscribed pearl in this city wall obviously refer to the actual gate which facilitated the closing and opening of the gate-tower.
The numeral twelve and its multiples dominate the descriptions given of the gates and its porter-watchmen, the wall-foundations, wall height and its inferred length, see 21. 12(3), 14(2), 16, 17, 20; 22. 2; cf. 7. 5-8(12x); 21. 1; cf. 4. 4(2), 10; 5. 8, 14; 11. 16; 19. 4; and also 7. 4; 14. 1, 3. Twelve is the number frequently associated with the sons of Jacob, eponymous heads of the twelve tribes of Israel, and then with the twelve apostles. Where measurements are concerned we should adopt western equivalents to assist grasping sizes in our terms, while insisting on keeping before us the actual biblical numerology in interpretation. For example, twelve thousand stadia may not convey today that the distance involved is approximately 1400 miles, but having said that the multiple of twelve and its biblical symbolism should not be lost!
The order of tracing the cardinal points in other biblical accounts is: regarding the tribes in the camp in the wilderness, east, south, west, north. Num. 2. 1-31. regarding the measurements of the four sides in the earthly millennial temple court, east, north, south, west, Ezek. 42. 16-19 regarding the gates in the earthly millennial city, north, east, south, west, Ezek. 48. 30-34.
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