The City of God (Revelation 21:9-27)

The first eight verses of chapter 21 described the new heaven and the new earth. We noticed that the new heaven and new earth are symbolic images just like the rest of the book. The new heaven and new earth are not geographic concepts suggesting that we will still live on the earth after Christ returns. Revelation 21:1-8 teaches the new heaven and new earth are relational images. When Christ returns then we will be able to fully be with God. Then we will be able to receive all the eternal rewards and blessings promised to the faithful. Then we will find comfort in the arms of the Lord who wipes away our tears that we have from living in this present heaven and present earth. When Christ returns there will be no more mourning, no crying, no pain, and no grief. These former things have passed away with the present heaven and present earth. Passages like Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah 66:22, and 2 Peter 3:11-13 confirm our understanding of the new heaven and new earth as the time when righteousness rules. This world, with all its evil, pain, and difficulties, has passed away. Now we are at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).

The Bride (21:9-10)

Revelation 21:9 John sees one of the seven angels who had poured out one of the bowls of wrath. The angel tells John that he is going show him the bride, the wife of the Lamb. We already know from the scriptures what is going to be described to us. Revelation 19:7-8 told us that the marriage of the Lamb has come and the bride is ready. The bride is defined for us as the saints, God’s holy people, and the fine linen the bride is wearing represents the righteous deeds of the saints. Paul makes the same connection, describing how husbands love their wives as how Christ loves the church. Christ is the husband, the groom and the church, the people of God, are the wife, the bride. The description the angel gives is not a description of a literal new city to be built in Palestine. The city, new Jerusalem, represents the people of God. Notice the other New Testament authors who make the same connection. The apostle Paul described the Jerusalem that is from above as the children of promise, the people of God (Galatians 4:21-31). The writer of Hebrews spoke the same of new Jerusalem.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22–24 ESV)

The angel carries John away in the Spirit to show him the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. Being carried in the Spirit reminds us that John continues a visionary sequence (Revelation 1:10; 4:2). John has not been literally carried anywhere. He is seeing a vision from God. The holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven connects back to Revelation 21:2. We saw the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem introduced. Verses 3-8 gave more details about the new heaven and new earth. The rest of the chapter gives more details about new Jerusalem.

New Jerusalem’s Walls and Gates (21:11-14)

John sees the new Jerusalem having the glory of God, full of radiance like a rare jewel, clear as crystal. The picture is likely the gleam and shimmer of a beautiful diamond. The people of God are symbolized as a great city coming down from heaven, shining with the glory of God.

Verses 12-14 describes the walls and the gates of the city. The great, high wall represents how the unclean and wicked cannot enter into fellowship with God. Notice this point is clearly made in verse 27. “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” The walls show that no one can enter unless they are in fellowship with the Lord. The walls and gates also pictures the prophecy that Isaiah made.

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.” (Isaiah 26:1–2 ESV)

The other prophetic references come from Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple in Ezekiel 40-48. In Ezekiel’s context the physical temple has been destroyed and the people carried into captivity. Ezekiel in a vision is taken to a very high mountain like John was for this vision in Revelation. Ezekiel sees a great new temple. Revelation borrows many images and descriptions from Ezekiel’s vision showing the fulfillment of what Ezekiel prophesied. Ezekiel’s vision describes the actual presence of God within the temple of the new community. John sees twelve gates guarded by twelve angels. Inscribed on the gates were the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. Ezekiel saw the same thing (Ezekiel 48:30-35). There are three gates on each side of the city, each inscribed with a name from sons of Israel. In addition to the twelve gates, there are twelve foundation stones. On the foundation stones were inscribed the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The apostles were the foundation of the city of God, the new Jerusalem. Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to the apostles who were guided into all truth (John 16:13). When we obey the teachings of the apostles recorded for us as these holy scriptures, then we will become part of the household of God and citizens in this great and glorious city of God. As the apostle Paul said to the Ephesians,

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…. (Ephesians 2:19–20 ESV)

The inclusion of the names of the twelve sons of Israel with the names of the twelve apostles shows the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan. The faithful people of God from both the covenants are part of God’s family and are in fellowship with the Lord.

New Jerusalem’s Measurements (21:15-17)

John now sees the angel with a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates, and its walls. When Ezekiel saw this vision he also saw an angel with a measuring rod in his hand (Ezekiel 40:3). Ezekiel 40:5 shows this angel going around the outside of the temple area and measuring the various aspects of the temple. The measuring of the city (and the temple in Ezekiel’s vision) is to show the security found in this city. We saw this symbol in Revelation 11:1-2 where the measuring of the temple by John should the security of that temple while the courts outside the temple were not measured because they were to be trampled and destroyed. We noted that temple in Revelation 11 to refer to the holy people of God who were spiritually secure while the physical city was destroyed by the Gentiles. The same meaning exists here in Revelation 21:15-17. These vast measurements of the city are to show that the people of God are secure and safe.

The length, width, and height of the city measure to 12,000 stadia. Many translations convert this measurement for us to help us understand the size of the city. The NRSV and NASB read 1500 miles while the NET and NLT read 1400 miles. Notice the measurements of the city are also perfect in dimension. These measurements should immediately cause us to realize that we are not looking at a literal city that would 1400-1500 miles high. The perfection of the city is being emphasized with this power numbers. We have noticed in our study of Revelation that 12,000 is a powerful, perfect number. We saw that the number of the servants of God sealed from each tribe was 12,000, bringing the number to 144,000. The number 12,000 shows grand and perfect completeness. There was only one other thing that was in perfect dimension of God’s buildings. The Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple was perfectly square (1 Kings 6:20). The Holy of Holies was 20 cubits long, wide, and high and was overlaid with God. This room represented the presence of God. This city with its perfect dimensions in equal length, width, and height represents God’s presence with his people who have been made perfect (Hebrews 12:22-24). Thus, a human measurement is the same as an angelic measurement because God is dwelling with his perfect people.

New Jerusalem’s Building Materials (21:18-21)

The description of the building materials for new Jerusalem are simply amazing. The walls are like diamonds, clear as glass, while the city was made of pure gold. Just as the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple was overlaid with gold and the whole temple was laid with gold (1 Kings 6:20-22) so also is new Jerusalem made of pure gold. The various precious stones continue to amplify the beauty and glory of God with this city. Many precious stones from the high priest’s breastplate are identified here, perhaps indicating the whole of Israel, God’s holy people, represented in this city. We may also be seeing another fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

“Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with lapis lazuli. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones. All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace.” (Isaiah 54:11–13 NIV)

This is the city that reflects the glory of God. This is the dwelling place of God. The twelve gates were twelve pearls and the street was the city was made of pure gold, transparent as glass. Everything is perfect. Nothing is marred in this city. The holy people of God are with the Lord in perfect fellowship where there is nothing evil.

New Jerusalem’s Temple (21:22-27)

Now John sees something very unusual about this holy city. There is no temple in the city. The reason is that the temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. There is no need for an intercessor between us and God. God is the temple. We have direct access and fellowship with the Lord. This is the reality of what the prophets promised.

And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart. (Jeremiah 3:16–17 ESV)

For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’” (Haggai 2:6–9 ESV)

The New Testament has taught us the same imagery.

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. (Acts 4:11 ESV)

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…. (Ephesians 2:19–20 ESV)

Further, the city has no need for the sun or moon because the glory of God gives it light and the lamp is the Lamb. The glory of God is incomparable to any source of light. God’s glory is sufficient for us for living. Once again, the imagery of verse 23 shows the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. (Isaiah 60:19 ESV)

The chapter concludes revealing that this great glory, security, and fellowship are available for all people. The nations walk by its light and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it. They will bring the glory and the honor of the nations (21:26). Isaiah also prophesied of this moment.

3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

11 Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut, that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession. 12 For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste. (Isaiah 60:3,5,11-12 ESV)

Those who do not submit to God will not be allowed to enter through the gates. Only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life can enter into this glorious fellowship with God and receive the eternal blessings and rewards. These images portray the glory and blessings we will enjoy in full fellowship with God in the age to come after Christ returns.