New Jerusalem Unveiled

Orthodox church buillding
John has seen already a glimpse of the city of New Jerusalem. However, it is now to be unveiled in all its glory. The next section concentrates on the city’s dimensions.  It must be borne in mind that what is presented is a vision; reality represented in symbolic language.
A city that is twenty-four hundred kilometers square is a physical improbability, if not an impossibility, in the present age; such proportions stagger the human imagination. Likewise, the image of single pearls large enough to be fashioned into city gates is difficult to grasp.
The physical glory and size of the city prepare the reader for the subsequent description of its inhabitants; New Jerusalem will be occupied by an innumerable multitude of men and women redeemed from every nation, not just a tiny remnant of faithful martyrs who escape from the tribulation by the skin of their teeth.
This vision borrows language and symbolism from aspects of the Tabernacle in the wilderness of the Exodus story and from Ezekiel’s vision of an idealized city and Temple (Ezekiel chapters 40-48). This is done to link New Jerusalem to the people of God. The holy city is not a reconstituted ancient Tabernacle, Temple, or Jerusalem, but the fulfillment of what they foreshadowed. The idea of a sanctuary in which God’s presence dwells but, also, is confined, is transformed. God’s glory will fill the entire creation without any limits. It is noteworthy that Revelation locates Ezekiel’s temple in New Jerusalem, not in the Millennium.  
(Revelation 21:9-23) – “And there came one of the seven messengers which had the seven bowls that were full of the seven last plagues, and spake with me, saying — Hither! I will point out to thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in spirit unto a mountain great and high, and pointed out to me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God; having the glory of God, — her lustre like unto a stone most precious, as a jasper stone shining as crystal; having a wall great and high, having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve messengers, and names inscribed, which are [the names] of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, — on the east three gates, and on the north, three gates, and on the south, three gates, and on the west, three gates; and the wall of the city having twelve foundations, and upon them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he that was talking with me had for a measure a reed of gold, that he might measure the city and the gates thereof and the wall thereof. And the city four-square lieth, and the length thereof is as great as the breadth. And he measured the city with the reed, —twelve thousand furlongs: the length and the breadth and the height thereof are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, — a hundred and forty-four cubits: the measure of a man, which is [the measure] of a messenger. And the structure of the wall thereof was jasper, and the city was pure gold, like unto pure glass. The foundations of the wall of the city with every precious stone were adorned: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh hyacinth, the twelfth amethyst; and the twelve gates were twelve pearls, — each one of the gates, severally, was of one pearl; and the broadway of the city was pure gold, as transparent glass. And sanctuary saw I none therein; for the Lord God, the Almighty, is the sanctuary thereof and the Lamb. And the city hath no need of the sun nor of the moon, that they should shine therein; for the glory of God illumined it and the lamp thereof was the Lamb.” (Source: The Emphasized Bible).
One of the seven angels carried me away in the Spirit unto a mountain great and high.” The description of New Jerusalem is given by one of the seven angels that delivered the bowls of wrath, just as occurred in John’s vision of the Great Harlot. The “bride,” New Jerusalem, is being contrasted with the “harlot,” the city of Babylon. He was “carried away” into the “wilderness” to see the “Harlot”; now John is carried in the spirit to “a mountain great and high” to see the “Bride.”
This picture alludes to the opening paragraph of Ezekiel’s lengthy description of an idealized city and Temple complex. The description of John carried in the spirit to a specific location from which to see his vision parallels the start of each of the previous major divisions of Revelation:
(Ezekiel 40:1-4) – “In the five and twentieth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, in the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten, in the selfsame day, the hand of Yahweh was upon me, and he brought me thither. In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me down upon a very high mountain, whereon was as it were the frame of a city on the south. And he brought me thither; and, behold, there was a man, whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed; and he stood in the gate. And the man said unto me, Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thy heart upon all that I shall show thee; for, to the intent that I may show them unto thee, art thou brought hither: declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel.”
(Revelation 1:8) – “I came to be in the Spirit in the Lord’s day {on the isle of Patmos}, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.”
(Revelation 4:1) – “After these things I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice that I heard, a voice as of a trumpet speaking with me, one saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must come to pass hereafter. Immediately, I came to be in the Spirit: and behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne.”
(Revelation 17:1-3) – “And there came one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls and spoke with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the judgment of the great harlot that sits upon many waters; with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and they that dwell in the earth were made drunken with the wine of her fornication. And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness: and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.”
In the book of Revelation, the “wilderness” echoes the story of Israel’s “exodus” in the wilderness prior to its entrance into the promised land. The “wilderness” corresponds to the earth in the present age on which the church is a pilgrim people protected by God but harassed by malevolent forces (Revelation 12:6, 12:14). Thus, John saw the persecuting power of Babylon in the “wilderness.”
Likewise, the “great and high mountain” from which John now sees New Jerusalem corresponds to the “Zion” on which the Lamb stood with the 144,000 saints redeemed from the earth.  All other “mountains” of the present age flee at the arrival of the Lamb on the Day of the Lord (Revelation 6:12-17, 14:1, 16:20).
The holy city Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” As before, New Jerusalem is in the process of “descending from heaven” to the (new) earth. The Greek participle for “descending” represents a progressive present tense; an action in progress. Note well that Jerusalem descends to the earth, saints do not ascend to it from the earth (Revelation 3:12, 21:2).
Her light was like a precious stone, a jasper stone clear as crystal.” This description links New Jerusalem with its “glory of God” to the throne in John’s vision of the “one who sits on the throne” (Revelation 4:2-3 – “there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting upon the throne; and he that sat was to look upon like a jasper stone and a sardius”). The point is not the kind of materials or the color of the stones from which New Jerusalem is constructed; rather, the city reflects the glory of the person who sits on the Throne (Compare - Ezekiel 28:13).
The names of the twelve tribes of Israel.” This clause is another link to Ezekiel’s idealized vision in which the city gates are named after the twelve tribes of God’s people:
(Ezekiel 48:31-34) – “The gates of the city shall be after the names of the tribes of Israel, three gates northward: the gate of Reuben, one; the gate of Judah, one; the gate of Levi, one. And at the east side four thousand and five hundred reeds, and three gates: even the gate of Joseph, one; the gate of Benjamin, one; the gate of Dan, one. And at the south side four thousand and five hundred reeds by measure, and three gates: the gate of Simeon, one; the gate of Issachar, one; the gate of Zebulun, one. At the west side four thousand and five hundred reeds, with their three gates: the gate of Gad, one; the gate of Asher, one; the gate of Naphtali, one.”
Twelve foundations and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” This addition demonstrates that what is portrayed in not a reconstituted nation of Israel or a one-to-one “literal” fulfillment of Ezekiel’s ideal city without any modifications. The office of “apostle” was not instituted until the ministry of Jesus. Previously in Revelation, the book summoned the saints, “apostles,” and the “prophets” to rejoice over the demise of the Great Harlot, Babylon (Revelation 18:20).
The book of Revelation does not develop its understanding of church government. True apostles are only mentioned here and in Revelation 18:20, therefore, it is not clear whether only the original twelve apostles are intended in the latter verse. However, the “twelve apostles of the Lamb” can only refer to the twelve apostles who built the church. Of more relevance is their close association with the “Lamb.” True apostleship means to follow the Lamb wherever he goes; to emulate the “faithful witness,” Jesus. This image may point to the understanding found elsewhere in the New Testament that Jesus has built his new covenant people on the foundation of the apostles.
A golden reed to measure the city.” This description recalls the vision of the “reed” given to John to measure the sanctuary (Revelation 11:1-2). That reed was not “golden.” The one now given to him is made of gold because it is used to measure New Jerusalem, which is constructed of gold and many other precious materials. As will be seen shortly, there is no “sanctuary” in New Jerusalem, therefore, the “golden reed” used here is not the same “reed” used previously to measure the sanctuary.
The change to a “golden reed” means that its purpose is not the same as that of the earlier measuring the sanctuary. The latter was done to separate and protect the sanctuary, the altar, and the priestly company that served in it from the hostile nations. Now, New Jerusalem is measured to establish its physical parameters to prepare it for habitation. Its massive dimensions are not designed to impress us visually but to house an innumerable multitude of redeemed men and women (cp. Ezekiel 48:8-35). The picture of measuring the city alludes to a similar vision of Ezekiel:
(Ezekiel 40:2-5) – “In the visions God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me down upon a very high mountain…there was a man, whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed; an-d he stood in the gate. And the man said unto me…Declare all that you see to the house of Israel. And, behold, a wall on the outside of the house round about, and in the man’s hand a measuring reed six cubits long, of a cubit and a handbreadth each: so he measured the thickness of the building, one reed; and the height, one reed.”
The city lies foursquare…twelve thousand stadia…its length, breadth and height equal…the wall a hundred-forty and four cubits.” The dimensions are multiples of four and twelve, and their purpose is to symbolize the people of God (e.g., “twelve” as in the “twelve tribes of Israel”). The 144 cubits recall the company of 144,000 males from the twelve tribes of Israel sealed to serve God and seen later standing with the Lamb on Zion (Revelation 7:1-8, 14:1-4).
The altars of incense and burnt offering used in the Tabernacle of Yahweh were “foursquare” and constructed of “shittim wood” (Exodus 37:25, 1 Kings 7:31, Ezekiel 40:47, 48:20); so, also, the “ephod” or breastplate worn by the high priest (Exodus 39:9). Similarly, in the book of Revelation, the altar is closely associated with the saints, especially with their testimony and their worship (Revelation 6:9-11, 8:3-5, 11:1-2). New Jerusalem is also “foursquare” but constructed of gold and precious gems to stress its glory and permanence. It is not built of shittim wood or anything else perishable.
Foursquare” also provides a verbal link to the idea of universality, as in the “four living creatures,” the “four corners” and the “four winds” of the earth (Revelation 4:6, 7:1-3, 20:8-10). The physical dimensions of the city are massive, twelve thousand “stadia” or approximately fifteen hundred miles (twenty-four hundred kilometers) long, wide, and high. The proportions would be nearly impossible to build on the earth; the point is that its limits are coterminous with the earth; the city encompasses the entire inhabited world.
The foundations of the wall were adorned with every precious stone.” The twelve stones correspond with the gems on the ephod or breastplate worn by the high priest when he performed his duties in the sanctuary (Exodus 28:17-20, 39:10). This is another symbol that points to the people of God.
I saw no temple for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the temple.” The book of Revelation has not abandoned the biblical vision of a perfect temple. The point is that the entire city is now the Temple of God, the place in which His glory dwells.  That is, the Temple is no longer contained within a narrow physical space but encompasses the entire creation. The ancient temple functioned not only as the dwelling place of Yahweh but to prevent His presence from contact with the rest of mankind. In the New Creation, that need will no longer exist.
This latter understanding is confirmed by the last verse of the paragraph - “the city has no need of the sun or the moon, for the glory of God illuminated it and its lamp is the Lamb.”
In the book of Revelation, the sun and moon are parts of the old order that can be affected negatively by God’s judgments; thus, for example, the sun became “black as sackcloth” and the moon “became as blood” on the Day of the Lord. The sun and moon were “smitten” when the fourth trumpet sounded. The fifth trumpet released the smoke of the Abyss that darkened the sun. The fourth angel poured out his bowl of wrath on the sun to scorch men with fire (Revelation 6:12, 8:12, 9:2, 16:8).
The city is illuminated not just by the “glory of God,” but because the Lamb is the “lamp” in the city.  There is no knowledge or glory of God apart from Jesus, and it is in his role as the sacrificial Lamb that he accomplishes this. Ever since the book’s vision of the Throne, Jesus has been identified consistently as the Lamb, including in the New Creation.


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