Understanding The Apocalypse

Revelation 21:9-22:5
Chapter 38

In Revelation 21:6, John's initial vision of the new heaven and the new earth ended as our Lord Jesus declared, "I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely."

Following the Lord's pronouncements of blessing on those who partake of the "Water of Life," and torments on those who do not, John is given another vision of the new Jerusalem. His tour begins with an invitation to,

I. Come and See the New Jerusalem

"And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God" (Revelation 21:9-10).
First, notice the angel who invites John to come and see the new Jerusalem. He is one John earlier witnessed being sent from the temple and presence of God to execute judgment upon the earth. In Revelation 15:6-7 and 16:1, we read,
"And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles. And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever." "And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth."
Now, in a diametric reversal of his role as executioner, this angel becomes the harbinger of God's blessing as he leads John on a guided tour of the holy city.

Perhaps, this is intended to demonstrate that both judgment for sin and blessing for righteousness come from the same Mighty God. Truly, the Lord is righteous to judge those who reject His Grace, as well as righteous to reward those who avail themselves of it.

Notice, next, the words of the angel's invitation: "Come here, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." Because this reference is similar to "a bride adorned for her husband," in Revelation 21:2, this description of the new Jerusalem as "the bride, the Lamb's wife" has convinced many that only the Church Age Saints will occupy the new Jerusalem. Others say this is a reference to the church and means John was invited to see a parenthetical view of Jerusalem, during the Millennial Kingdom.

Both these viewpoints focus on the Church as the Bride of Christ, which she is, but this does not necessarily mean every use of the phrase is a reference to the Church. The angel's meaning is clearly revealed in v:10, where after inviting John to see "the bride, the Lamb's wife" he then took John to a mountain and showed him "that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God." The "bride" the angel took John to see is a city, not a people group.

John compared the new Jerusalem to the beauty and suitability of a bride adorned for her husband in Revelation 21:2, and here that thought is continued. The new Jerusalem will be a city befitting the King of kings and Lord of lords, for whom all things were created and all things exist.

We see in the text, John witnessed "that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God," and he wrote,

II. A Description of the New Jerusalem

John begins by describing the general characteristic and radiance of the city in Revelation 21:11. "Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal."

As a precious gemstone sparkles with reflected light and its beauty is enhanced thereby, the new Jerusalem will be aglow with the glory of God. The city does not generate its own light, neither does the sun or moon shine in it, because only the Glory of the Lord can properly illuminate and display the beauty of this great city. This is a holy city, forever illumined by the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, He is the Light of the World, for all eternity.

What a tremendous lesson this is. Just as the holy city does not make its own light, but reflects the Glory of God, so too, the believer is not light himself, but should be illumined by and radiate our Lord Jesus Christ. As the new Jerusalem is known to be holy because it reflects the Glory of God, the believer is known to be holy when he reflects the Lord Jesus Christ.

Next, in Revelation 21:12-14, John describes the exterior of the city.

"And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb."
The first thing that comes to mind when reading the city "had a wall great and high," is a fortress. Historically, great high walls surrounding a city or encampment have been used to control who or what enters and this wall serves to remind us that access to the holy city is restricted. On the other hand, the wall has gates in it, indicating that entrance into the city is possible.

The wall is built to form a square surrounding the city, with each side facing a different compass direction. There are three gates in the wall on each side of the city and on each of the gates is written the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel (It is possible the names may be arranged according to Ezekiel 48:31-34). The wall of the city is built on a foundation containing the names of the twelve apostles of our Lord.

This arrangement indicates the city is approachable from any direction, but while one may come from anywhere, entry is only possible through one of the gates and each of the gates is guarded by an angel, either to prevent unauthorized entry or to welcome the residents. Either way, we are again reminded entry into the holy city is restricted.

Some believe the names of the twelve tribes on the gates and the names of the twelve apostles on the foundations indicate only Israelites will be allowed to enter the holy city.

Others believe this is evidence the Church has displaced Israel since it is certain, the Church will be allowed to enter the holy city.

Some say there is no need for restrictions to the holy city because all who oppose the Lord have been cast into the Lake of Fire.

However, there are restrictions to entry into the new Jerusalem according to Revelation 21:27. "And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life."

This is God's eternal promise that the new Jerusalem will never be defiled by sin as was the first creation. The walls and the angels guarding the gates are not necessary to keep sin out of the holy city. Rather, they serve as reminders that it is a place of absolute holiness and only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life may enter.

The use of the Apostles names and the twelve tribes of Israel does not mean only Israelites may enter, neither does it mean the Church has replaced Israel. The requirement for entry is to be written in the Lamb's book of life, this occurs when an individual believes God and it is counted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

Jews and Gentiles, Old Testament Saints, New Testament Saints, Tribulation Saints, all who have responded in faith to God's revelation in their respective dispensations, will be written in the Lamb's book of life and allowed to enter the holy city.

Perhaps, the use of the names is to remind us what our Lord said in John 4:22, "Salvation is of the Jews." Romans 9:4-5, sheds more light on this statement.

"Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen."
The names of the twelve tribes remind us that Israel is God's chosen nation and the Law, the promises and the Savior were delivered first to them. Israel has never been and never will be excluded from God's dealings with humanity. On the contrary, the Gentiles were alienated from God, and without hope. The Gentiles natural position before God is clear in Ephesians 2:11-12.
"Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world."
Paul goes on to say that through Christ, the Gentiles who were far away and the Jews who were near are brought together in one body and one Spirit. The commandments that put a barrier between Israel and the Gentiles and put all people at enmity with God have been abolished by the blood of Christ who alone reconciles us to God and makes us one, in Himself.
"But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Ephesians 2:13-18).
Because of Christ, all who believe He died in their place for their sins and rose again are no longer strangers to God, but are citizens and members of His household. This is possible because the foundation for faith was laid by the Prophets and the Apostles, concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Rock of our Salvation.
"Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:19-22).
It was through Israel that the Savior came into the world. Through her prophets that God foretold His coming advent, and it was the Apostles who spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.

Truly, as Jesus said, "Salvation is of the Jews" and their names on the holy city remind us of the special place Israel and the Apostles hold in the heart of God because they are His chosen people.

Next, in Revelation 21:15-17, John records the dimensions of the holy city.

"And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel."
John says the dimensions he gives for the city are actual measurements he witnessed taken by an angel. That these are literal, human, measurements is confirmed in v:17, where he says they are "according to the measure of a man." John recorded the measurements in Greek, they are, "stadia" and "pechus" (pay-choos). The word "stadia" implies a stadium or race course and was the length of an Olympic race, which was one eighth of a mile.

John writes the city is square, "The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal." Each dimension is twelve thousand "stadia." By dividing twelve thousand by eight, the city is calculated to be fifteen hundred miles in length, width and height.

Some believe the new Jerusalem will be a cube shaped city with the throne of God in the center. Others believe the city will be a pyramid with the throne of God at the pinnacle. Because the description in the text could fit either shape, the emphasis is on the size of the city not the shape.

If the city is a cube and everyone in it is allotted forty cubic acres, there is enough space for 216 billion people. Though a pyramid shape would decrease these numbers some, there will still be enough space for billions and billions of people. No one will be excluded from heaven for lack of space. Only lack of faith will keep one out of the holy city.

John says the wall around the city will be one hundred forty-four "pechus" high. "Pechus" means "forearm" and represents the length of a man's forearm or about eighteen inches. Figuring it to be eighteen inches, the wall around the city will be two hundred sixteen feet high.

In Revelation 21:18-21, the materials of the city are described.

"And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: each one of the gates was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass."
The financial worth of the city is often the supposed focus of this passage but in an economy where everything is supplied in abundance, there is no such thing as financial wealth.

True, the walls will be jasper, the city buildings and streets will be gold, the gates will be of seamless pearl and the foundation will be twelve layered, each layer made of precious gemstone. While these represent, in terms we can comprehend that the best of everything is available to the occupants of the holy city, one sometimes overlooked common characteristic of these materials is they will be clear as transparent glass.

The apparent reason for this is so the glory of God can shine through the city and illuminate every square inch of it, meaning, there will be no darkness at all in God's holy city.

If you have used a crystal prism to separate light into its various colors, you have some inkling of the beauty of this great city. The light of the glory of God will reflect through the city in a brilliant spectrum of color.

John says in Revelation 21:23, "And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." The human mind can only scratch the surface when trying to imagine the beauty of God and His presence in that holy city.

Notice in Revelation 21:22, there is no temple in the city. "And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it."

The temple is where the priest would go to intercede for sinners. There will be no temple in heaven for there is no sin and therefore, no need for intercession. Because the occupants of heaven will be holy they will have direct access to the Lord, they will not need to go through an intercessor.

The Lord Jesus Christ is our Intercessor today. Through Him we have access to the throne of God for worship and prayer. When we are in the new Jerusalem, our Lord Jesus will no longer be the One through whom we worship, He will be the One we worship.

In Revelation 21:24-27, John describes the occupants of the holy city.

"And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life."
There are four categories identified in this passage. Those in three of the categories will be allowed to enter the city, one will not. The categories identified here are:
(1) "The nations of them who are saved." In the discussion of the city gates, it was noted that some believe the names of the twelve tribes on the gates, mean only Israelites will be allowed to enter the city. This statement does lend some credibility to that theory because the word "nations" is translated from a Greek word used three ways in the Scriptures:
In the singular it is used to mean Israel (John 11:48-52).
In the plural it is used to mean nations of people other than Israel (Romans 15:8-12).
It is used of Gentile converts, distinct from Jews (Galatians 2:12).

The usage here may very well mean "Israel" and if so, then we know the Israelites who are saved will be in the holy city. However, this does not exclude other nations or Gentiles from the new Jerusalem. We see this in the second category that John identifies:

(2) "The kings of the earth." Rather, than understanding this as a reference to individual rulers of the worlds' governments, it seems better to understand it as the group who had power on the earth, that is, those who had dominance. This is talking about Gentiles.

Here are two reasons for this viewpoint:
First, according to Revelation 19:19, "the kings of the earth," or the rulers of the earth's governments will fight against our Lord, not worship Him.
Second, the Gentiles have been the predominate group throughout most of the world's history, even in the Church. Therefore it seems John is saying the Gentiles who dominated the earth will bring their "glory and honor" into the city.

It is interesting that some modern translations of the Bible render the phrase, "glory and honor" as having to do with their royal splendor. This reinforces the idea this text is talking about potentates of the earth rather than Gentiles. But remember, this is a new heaven and new earth and the former things are passed away, including the former splendor of kings. Therefore, this cannot be talking about former kings and their splendor, those things have long since disappeared. And if Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as the flowers of the fields that God made, what place would the splendor of earthly kings have in the holy city?

We can better understand the things the Gentiles will bring into the city, by looking at the words, "glory" and "honor" in their original language. The Greek word for "glory" used here is "doxa" (dox-ah) and may be rendered as "honor, praise or worship." "Honor" is from the word, "time" (tee-may) and has to do with "placed value, esteem, preciousness."

John is saying the Gentiles who dominated the world will bring their "highly valued worship and praise" into the holy city. What else could we bring into the presence of the One who died in our place for our sins, to redeem us with His own blood, so we can be residents of that holy city?

The members of the third category that John identifies are:

(3) "They who are written in the Lamb's book of life." This third group John says will be allowed to enter the holy city is not a new or separate group. It is a composite group consisting of both Jews and Gentiles. All whose names are in the "Lamb's book of life," whether Jew or Gentile will be allowed to enter the new Jerusalem.

To those who believe only Jews will enter the new Jerusalem because they are God's chosen people, this says, only if their names are written in the "Lamb's book of life."

To those who believe the occupants of the holy city will be Gentiles in the church, who have replaced Israel because she rejected and crucified her King, this says, only if their names are written in the "Lamb's book of life."

To anyone who believes there is any other way or reason for them to spend eternity in heaven, this says, only if their names are written in the "Lamb's book of life."

Notice, all who are in the "Lamb's book of life" may come and go at will through the gates of the city because the gates will never close. Also, they will walk in the light of the city and there will be no night.

This information indicates those who are written in the "Lamb's book of life" will need no rest and their lives will be filled with constant activity. We will not miss so much as a moment of pleasure, in the presence of our Lord, because we will have no physical limitations or restrictions.

The fourth category John identifies will never enter that city.

(4) "Anything that defileth, neither he that worketh abomination, or maketh a lie." At first, it may seem this is talking about those people who were never redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and surely, they will never enter the holy city.

However, we must remember it was Satan who lied and worked an abomination to defile God's first creation. It was Satan, the originator of sin, who entered the Garden of Eden and introduced Adam to the sin that separated him and his posterity from God. It was Satan who created the sin that nailed our Lord Jesus Christ to that "old rugged cross."

Humans are not the originators of sin. They are, though willing, the victims of sin and God will never again allow his creation, including humans, to be brought under the bondage of sin. Neither Satan nor anyone like him will ever be allowed to enter the holy city and defile it with lies and abominations as was done in God's first creation.

Next, in Revelation 22:1-2, John describes what he saw inside the new Jerusalem.
"And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."
The first thing John was shown in the holy city was a river emanating from the throne of God and the Lamb. The river is pure and clear and flows down the center of the street leading to the throne. The water in this river is the "Water of life."

The symbolism in what John saw leaps from the page. The "Water of life" is identified in John 7:38-39.

"He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)"
The pure, clear "river of water of life," is symbolic of the Holy Spirit sent from God who brings life to all who receive Him through faith, in the Lord Jesus Christ.

As the river flows down the main street of the holy city, it is accessible to all and is the source of life, in the new Jerusalem.

The next thing John saw is the "Tree of life." Apparently, the "Tree of life" will be growing along the edge of the "River of water of life," thereby, tapping into the life-giving water.

A clue to its size and purpose is in the statement, "On either side of the river, was there the tree of life." This indicates its branches will extend beyond the other side of the river, so it is accessible from both sides of the river.

Another clue to its size and purpose is found in Genesis 3:22, where we read that eating from the "Tree of life" allows one to live forever. Therefore, if this "Tree of life" is the source of nourishment in the holy city, allowing those who eat from it to live forever, it must be large enough for all the occupants of heaven to eat from it.

John goes on to say this tree will bear and yield every month, indicating its fruit is always available for consumption.

He also says "the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." This translation has caused some to question why healing would be necessary in heaven. This occurs because the word translated "healing" would be better rendered as "health."

These leaves are not for healing. The statement in Revelation 22:3, is clear, "And there shall be no more curse." Certainly, there will be no sickness or afflictions in heaven, because the occupants will have glorified bodies, no longer subject to these human frailties, wrought by sin.

These leaves represent the everlasting health or freedom from the ravages of sin the "nations" or "peoples" of heaven will enjoy.

Think about what John says. The Saints will drink water from the River of Life and receive nourishment and health from the Tree of Life, meaning all of mankind's needs will be met forever, in the holy city, the new Jerusalem.

This is what God desires for all humanity. This was available to Adam in the Garden of Eden, until sin separated him from God. This is in store for those who are written in the "Lamb's Book of life."

John concludes his vision of the holy city by describing the conditions there, in Revelation 22:3-5.

"And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever."
The curse of sin will not be in the city. "The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it." This is another indicator of the holiness of the city. The presence of the throne of God means this is His abode and because God is holy and cannot abide sin, it is certain the new Jerusalem will be free from the curse of sin.

Notice, there are two personalities mentioned, but only one throne. This does not mean this will be a shared throne. Rather, it means there is one God. The Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ, is, always has been, and always will be, the Sovereign God of the universe.

It is true, God became a man named Jesus, to die in the place of sinners and thereby, redeem all who depend on His substitutionary death and resurrection for their righteousness.
It is true, God indwells, in the person of the Holy Spirit, all who depend on the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior.
It is true, God has revealed Himself to humanity in three different personalities.
However, there is only one throne in heaven because there is only one God.

This also proves the idea that the reign of Christ must end with the Millennium (often based on 1 Corinthians 15:24-28), is wrong. It is His reign in the first heaven and first earth that will end. Simply because, after He has brought all things into subjection, the first heaven and first earth will pass away. Even so, the King of kings and Lord of lords will reign forever on His throne in the new Jerusalem.

The text also says, "His servants shall serve him." John is not saying the Saints will be in bondage. Neither, is he talking about enslaved angels. He is saying God's servants (all are in subjection to His throne) will render homage, worship and praise to Him. This is what the word rendered "serve" literally means.

Next, John discusses the fellowship the Saints will enjoy with their Lord and God. He says, "They shall see his face." Clearly, the Saints will have face to face contact, that is, personal fellowship with the King of kings and Lord of lords. But this also tells us something about the Saints.

In Exodus 33, Moses petitioned God to allow him to see His Glory, but God responded in v:20, "Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me, and live." Because sin cannot exist in the presence of the unveiled face or glory of God, when the text says, "they shall see his face," we know the Saints are no longer the sinful creatures they once were. They have been redeemed and made righteous by the Grace of God, through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

"His name shall be in their foreheads." This is a clear identification of God's people. He knows each of them personally and they know Him.

"And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever."

Listen to this beautiful summary and alliteration of the blessings awaiting all who trust Christ as Savior, recorded in Revelation 22:3-5 (quoted from John F. Walvoord, who quoted Wilber M. Smith, who quoted A. T. Pierson).

"And there shall be no more curse--perfect restoration.
But the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it--perfect administration.
His servants shall serve him--perfect subordination.
And they shall see his face--perfect transformation.
And his name shall be in their foreheads--perfect identification.
And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord giveth them light--perfect illumination.
And they shall reign forever and ever--perfect exultation."

From "Understanding The Apocalypse"
A book of sermons by Pastor Jim McColloch, Th.M., Th.D.
© Copyright 1994, 1999, 2006