REVELATION - CHAPTER 21
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
21:1. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”
John is here given a glimpse of what will be in the eternal state following the end of this present world, and the consignment of all unbelievers into the eternal torment of the lake of fire.
The heaven referred to is the sidereal, the realm of the stars and planets etc., not that which is the abode of God, and which is eternal.
In the replacement of the first heaven and the first earth with the second, we find the operation of the principle that pervades Scripture: the rejection of the first, and its replacement with the second, the first representing what is natural; the second, that which is spiritual; the principle being specifically declared in Heb 10:9 “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”
“... and there was no more sea.” There is no question that the statement is to be taken literally, but, as frequently in Scripture, the literal embodies also the spiritual. In that coming eternity there will be neither any literal sea, nor will there be what the sea represents: the unbelieving nations seething in their rebellion against the Creator, see Isa 57:20, “The wicked are like the troubled sea ....”
We might note incidentally, relative to the earth, that it came originally from God’s hand a perfect thing, as did Adam; but it then became the dark water-covered ruin described in Ge 1:2, in which ruined state it portrays man as a ruined fallen thing. God’s renovation of that earth as described in Genesis chapter one however, portrays what man becomes through the new birth. As this present earth is marred by sin, so is the life of even the most spiritual believer; but the perfection that will mark the believer in resurrection is portrayed by the perfection of that new third (resurrection) stage earth.
21:2. “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
As noted already, during the Millennium, it seems that the heavenly Jerusalem will descend to occupy a place in the astral heavens, poised over the earth, and shedding her light upon it, but still being at a distance from it, the reason being that even in the Millennium there will be sin on the earth, though its activity will be restrained. That holy city which is God’s dwelling place may not touch such an earth. Her complete descent must await the creation of the new earth here seen by John, an earth in which there will be no taint of sin. The description of the city as being like a bride on her wedding day, speaks of the purity and glory of that which is both God’s dwelling place, and the center of His universal administration.
21:3. “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”
The speaker isn’t identified, for his message is validated by the fact that he speaks from heaven, and therefore for God. His words have the same weight as though God Himself uttered them. As God dwelt symbolically in the midst of Israel during her wilderness wanderings, so in that coming eternity will He dwell literally in the midst of the redeemed, not only of Israel, but of all the nations, out of all the ages.
21:4. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
Tears, death, sorrow, crying, and pain are all the accompaniments of sin. Their absence from that new heaven and new earth further attests the sinless perfection of what will replace the present heavens and earth.
21:5. “And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.”
The Speaker is God, and if in the preceding verse there has been the assurance of the passing away of all “the former things,” things that have been blighted by sin, here is given the antithesis: they will be replaced with new and better things; things moreover, impervious to the blight of sin, for there will be no sin. And the certainty of all this is declared in the command, “Write: for these words are true and faithful.” Every word spoken by God will have its perfect fulfillment, in spite of all human and diabolic opposition.
21:6. “And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.”
Even though these things haven’t yet been fulfilled, the certainty of that fulfillment is declared by God’s speaking as though all had already been accomplished, “It is done.” That confidence rests in the fact that the One Who has undertaken to do these things is He Who is the Eternal. (For the significance of Alpha and Omega see comments on Re 1:8).
While certainly the water of life may be a figure of the Gospel, the present context points to its being something more, for obviously there will be no need of the Gospel, as such, in a perfect world. This reference therefore may be to the eternal satisfaction that will be enjoyed by those who have believed the Gospel here on earth. That that satisfaction will be related to the Word of God is disclosed in that water is the figure under which it is presented, and water is the Scriptural symbol of the Word in its ability to refresh and cleanse us. But since the written Word is but the revelation of Him Who is the Living Word, the reference is to the Lord Jesus Christ, and the satisfaction which His redeemed will find in Him eternally.
21:7. “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”
“Overcometh” may not be taken to teach salvation by works, but rather that the proof of the reality of the professed faith will be that patient endurance that will surmount every obstacle, and that in the midst of every earthly trial, will cling to the promises of God. It will be simply that manner of living that will demonstrate the reality of the inward faith.
Many translations render “all things” as “all these things,” though the difference is more imagined than real, for Ro 8:16-17 assures us that “We are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ....” All that is God’s is also Christ’s, and therefore also ours.
The believer’s place of nearness and privilege is declared in the assurance “I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”
21:8. “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
Had we been compiling this list we would have begun with murderers, but God would continue to remind those who read this book, that every sin can be forgiven, except that of unbelief. He would remind us also that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom ....” (Pr 9:10), but, “The fear of man bringeth a snare ....” (Pr 29:25). There will be multitudes in the lake of fire because they feared the laughter of men more than they did the wrath of God.
21:9. “And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”
The first eight verses of this chapter refer to the eternal state, but here from verse nine the narrative reverts to the description of the millennial age, and the first revelation given John is of the Church under the figure of a bride, no symbol more fittingly portraying the closeness of the relationship that will exist eternally between the Lord and the redeemed of this present Church age.
An OT figure of this same truth is set before us in Genesis 45 which records the reconciliation between Joseph and his brethren. In verse ten of that chapter it is written, “And thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou (Joseph’s brethren) shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children’s children ....”; but as has been pointed out by others, near as were his brethren, nearer still was Asenath, the bride given him during the years of estrangement from his brethren. She too is a type of the Church.
Under this figure of a bride, God is setting the Church before us in all the glory and spotless purity that will be hers following her rapture to heaven, with nothing of earth to mar her perfection.
21:10. “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,”
“In the spirit” refers simply to the fact that John, in his own spirit was carried by the Holy Spirit to that “great and high mountain,” a vantage point from which to view the Church resplendent in her raptured glory just prior to her descent in the heavenly Jerusalem, to the atmospheric heavens, from which that glory will lighten the millennial earth.
Since a mountain is the Biblical symbol of a king and/or a kingdom, the aptness of this great and high mountain as the vantage place to which John was carried, is easily recognized when we remember that he was being shown the Church in her exodus from heaven to share her Bridegroom’s millennial reign over all the kingdoms of the earth, the OT foreshadowing of that glorious reign being the increase of the smiting stone (Christ) to “a great mountain that filled the whole earth” (Dan 2:35).
Very different was John’s view of the great harlot that masquerades as the church. In Re 17:3 the place from which he beheld her was “the wilderness,” the place of death, fitting viewpoint from which to see her who deals in death.
The change of figure from bride to city would direct us to another aspect of the Church following the rapture. Under the symbol of a bride, God would have us see the bond of love that unites Christ and the Church, but in the city, He would have us see her reigning with Christ, for the city isn’t some undefined metropolis: it is the heavenly Jerusalem, the center of the divine administration, for in the Millennium the center of earthly administration will be the literal city of Jerusalem. But this Jerusalem seen by John isn’t that earthly city: this is the heavenly Jerusalem descending to take her millennial place in the atmospheric heavens, near to the earth, but not on it, and shedding her light over it. God’s dwelling place can come close to the millennial earth, but may not actually touch it, for while sin will be restrained and rare in the Millennium, it won’t be completely banished as it will be in the new earth.
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;”
In the Tabernacle and Temple the visible manifestation of the divine glory was confined to the holy of holies, but in the Millennium that glory will cover the earth “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14).
Her light being likened unto that of a jasper is of special significance, for on the breastplate of the high priest the jasper was the stone engraved with the name of Benjamin, which means son of the right hand, and Benjamin is a type of Christ in His millennial might and glory. In connection with the heavenly Jerusalem, we read that Christ is the light of it (verse 23). Every symbol here combines to set before us His millennial glory.
In reply to the question of how the glory of the Bride, the Church, can be also that of Christ, it is to be remembered that God declares the man and his wife to be “one flesh,” and Eph 5:30-32 makes it clear that God views Christ and the Church as one.
The reference to that stone as being “most precious” serves to remind us of His transcendent worth, while the further description “clear as crystal” declares His spotless purity.
21:12. “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:”
A wall is the symbol of protection, so that the truth being taught in this wall “great and high” surrounding that glorious city, is that the inhabitants are secure from all harm.
Since twelve is the Biblical number of divine government on display, these twelve gates emphasize that that city is the administrative center, not only of the earth, but of the universe. In the OT the city gate was the place associated with the government of the city. A gate however, speaks of both entry and exit, but since no unbeliever can enter that city, the truth being declared here in symbol appears to be that those who share Christ’s reign may use those gates to come and go in connection with their administrative duties as they reign with Him.
There can be no question that the angels stationed at those gates are there as guardians, for guardianship is frequently associated with angels, note for example, the guardian Cherubim placed at the east of Eden following Adam’s expulsion.
The inscription of the names of the twelve tribes of Israel upon the gates (presumably one tribal name on each gate) may be to remind us that Israel too has a glorious future. In the Millennium the believing Jews, who will have physically survived the Tribulation, will be the new nation Israel that will be the earthly center of world government. But when the Millennium begins, the OT saints, together with the Tribulation age martyrs, will have been resurrected, and will be in heaven with us (there will be no resurrected individuals on the millennial earth); and as their brethren on the millennial earth will govern that earth from the earthly Jerusalem, so will these resurrected Israelites share with us in the government of earth, but from the heavenly, not the earthly Jerusalem.
21:13. “On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates.”
Since three is the Biblical number of resurrection, the location of three gates toward each main compass direction (four being itself the number of earth and testing), continues to emphasize that the government administered from that heavenly city under the Lord Jesus Christ, will be in the hands of those who have been raised at the resurrection of life, i.e., the believers of all the ages. (The resurrection of the OT and Tribulation age saints at the end of the Tribulation will complete the resurrection of life, for believers of the millennial age will not die).
Nor should we miss the perfection of the order in which the gates are mentioned. The east is always associated with sin and departure from God. As Adam and Cain went eastward when leaving the divine presence, so are men in their natural state east of God. They are spiritually away from Him. But it is there that redemption begins, for the first step in conversion is the necessity of recognizing that we are “east” of God, of seeing that our sins have separated us from Him. He Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, came to this earth which was spiritually “east” of God, i.e., spiritually away from Him, to be the way through which men could return to God.
But the north is the Biblical direction that is associated with wisdom, either mere natural intelligence, or that “fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom” (Pr 9:10). Growth in the knowledge of God is to follow conversion. We are to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pe 3:18); and the further exhortation is given, “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge” (2 Pe 1:5).
Faith brings us eternal life, but the combination of faith, and the knowledge of God as found in the Scriptures, furnishes the basis of the walk of faith. It is what enables us to walk in the peaceful enjoyment of our salvation amid all the different circumstances of life. Significantly therefore, the third set of gates is located on the south wall, the direction that invariably speaks of faith.
That walk however, brings us closer to God, and the fourth set of gates is located on the west, the direction that is always associated with approach to God. For example, on the day of atonement, the high priest moved westward to enter the holy of holies. At the time of the Savior’s birth, the wise men came from the east, i.e., they were travelling westward.
21:14. “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
The fact that the names of the twelve Apostles are in the twelve foundations of the city is in perfect keeping with the fact that this glorious metropolis is a figure of the Church, for in Eph 2:20 we are reminded that we who constitute the Church “Are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” As noted in our study of verse 12 however, the presence of the names of the “twelve tribes of the children of Israel” on the gates, assures us that Israel will share with us in the government of the millennial earth.
The names of the twelve tribes of Israel on the gates of the earthly millennial Jerusalem (Eze 48:31-34), remind us that the administration of the millennial earth will be from the earthly Jerusalem, by the converted nation of Israel that will have physically survived the terrible Tribulation judgments. That administration however, will itself be under the government of the heavenly Jerusalem which will be administered by the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church, together with the resurrected OT saints (which will include the martyrs of the Tribulation age).
21:15. “And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof.”
In Scripture, measuring or numbering indicates possession, so that the angel’s measuring of this heavenly Jerusalem marks it as being composed of all those who belong to God, for a city is more than just buildings and streets: it consists also of those who dwell there. Only a golden measuring rod could be used to define the boundaries of this city, for gold is the symbol of divine glory, and all who dwell in that heavenly metropolis will be partakers of that same glory. All will possess the life and nature of the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself the effulgence of that glory.
Since gates speak of access; and walls, of defence against intruders, the measuring of the gates and wall continues to emphasize that only the redeemed will enter through those gates, and enjoy the protection of that wall. Inasmuch however, as the gate in ancient times was the place of government, the additional truth being taught is that those who enter those gates will be associated with Christ in His government of the millennial earth.
21:16. “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 (1,500 miles). The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.”
If this is the total length of the wall (and many commentators take it to be that), then the length of each side is three thousand furlongs, a particularly significant figure since three is the number of resurrection. Apart from the generation of Church age believers who will be alive when the Rapture occurs, all within that city will be redeemed men and women who will have been resurrected. It is to be further noted that as length speaks of the duration of life, so does breadth speak of the quality of life manward; and height, of the quality of the life Godward, so that the fact being emphasized is that since the life possessed by the inhabitants is resurrection life: it will never end. Its quality too is resurrectional: it will be unmarred by anything of the flesh; nor will there be any difference between what meets the eye of God, and what meets the eye of man.
Some commentators, focusing on the fact that the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle was a cube, have (erroneously, I believe) taken this city to be also a vast cube. I agree with those who see it rather as a tiered city, a view which is more in keeping with its having twelve foundations. (The Holy of Holies in both Tabernacle and Temple, is not a symbol of the whole heavenly city, but of that part of it which is the dwelling place of God).
It is not without significance that Babylon, Satan’s earthly counterfeit of the heavenly city of God, also rose tier upon tier, the topmost level being the temple of the god Marduk. Nor was the likeness confined to its terraced construction. Babylon straddled the Euphrates, so that the river seemed to flow out of the city, just as the river of life flows out of the heavenly Jerusalem. All of this would indicate that Satan, the instigator of the rebellion that produced Babylon, was attempting to produce on earth a replica of that heavenly city from which his own rebellion has caused him to be expelled. (That expulsion seems to relate only to permanent residence, for it is clear that he still has access to the presence of God to accuse the brethren, see Job 1:6 and Re 12:9-10).
The twelve foundations therefore would appear to be, not one superimposed upon another, but rather, each one as the foundation of each succeeding higher and smaller terrace or tier. The phenomenal height of the city is thus the more easily comprehended. It is the height from the first great foundation square, up to the smallest topmost tier, which would appear to be the specific dwelling place of God within the city.
21:17. “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.”
This is generally taken to be the height of the wall encircling the first tier (and perhaps also the height of the walls around the other tiers). The repeated reference to the number twelve (144 is simply 12 x 12) has special significance, for twelve is the Biblical number of the governed, as ten is of God the Governor. Those who will dwell in that heavenly city, and rule with Christ, will be they who willingly accepted His rule in the course of their earthly lives. This appears to be the implication of “according to the measure of a man.”
21:18. “And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.”
Jasper was the breastplate gem engraved with the name of Benjamin son of the right hand, the figure of Christ in His millennial power and glory. It is He Who is the “Wall” that separates the redeemed from the damned. It is faith in Him that fits men to dwell in the enjoyment of that eternal city. It is lack of faith in Him that excludes them from its precincts, and fits them for hell and the eternal torment of the lake of fire.
The impossibility of our grasping the full magnificence of the heavenly Jerusalem is declared in its being described as of “pure gold, like unto clear glass.” We can’t even begin to imagine what translucent gold might look like. The transcendent glory of that city is indescribable, but so then is the glory of the redeemed, for it is they who comprise that city. The glory of the city can’t be separated from the glory of its citizens. They are one!
21:19. “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;”
21:20. “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.”
As noted already, each of these appears to be the foundation of the part of the wall that encircled each successively higher tier of the city. The inscription of the names of the twelve Apostles on these foundations assures us of the superlative glory that will be theirs on that soon coming day when the Lord Jesus Christ reigns. His promise to them was, “... in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt 19:28).
What is set before us here is the symbolic revelation of the fulfillment of that promise. But there is more than the revelation of the coming glory of the Apostles. However veiled the details may be, no one can fail to see in these symbols the general revelation of the coming glory that awaits all the redeemed, Paul giving the assurance that “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Co 4:17). (It is to be noted that the coming glory of the Apostles does not outshine that of the Church as a whole, for they are part of the Church).
21:21. “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.”
It is generally agreed that the pearl is the symbol of the Church, for as the pearl comes out of the sea, so has the Church come out of the “sea” of the nations (Isa 57:20), so that these twelve gates of pearl, inscribed also with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, are the symbolic assurance that the government of the millennial age will be shared by Israel and the Church, she however, occupying the higher place as the Bride of the King; they being His brethren. (The association of the gate with government is easily discerned, for in the ancient world the gate was the place of government).
21:22. “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”
Having seen no comment on this verse better than that of the late Dr. Tatford, I quote him, “The temple was merely a shrine in which God might dwell, but here, the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb were revealed in all their glory. God burst out from the limits of sacred buildings and became Himself the temple. Full and unlimited access to God was thus available to the worshipper. No priest stood to minister at an altar of approach; no mediator interceded on behalf of his fellows. God was available to all who wished to approach Him. It is difficult to realize the full significance of the picture, and the blessing of the day portrayed can only be feebly grasped.”
It is to be noted, that as the many references in Revelation to the temple in heaven make clear, it is not, apparently, until the moment of her descent to the aerial heavens over the millennial earth, that the city is said to be without a temple, and the reason may well be that the new Temple in the earthly millennial Jerusalem will then be the only one needed, because of the close proximity of the heavenly and the earthly Jerusalems.
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 sun is one of the Scriptural symbols of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Light of the world; and the moon is the symbol of corporate testimony; but in the day when the heavenly Jerusalem descends into the atmospheric heavens, and sheds her glorious light over the millennial earth, symbols, no longer needed, will give place to reality. Men will be able to see with their natural eyes the brightness of that eternal city which is the dwelling place of God and the Lamb, and of the redeemed.
21:24. “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 honor into it.”
This is the day described in Isaiah chapter 60.
Some translations, perhaps correctly, omit the words of them which are saved, for after those (the living redeemed out of the Tribulation) who will first occupy the millennial earth, there will come succeeding generations of their children, some of whom will refuse to trust in Christ, so that it will be not only the redeemed, but also the unredeemed, who will walk in the light of the heavenly Jerusalem, the guilt of the latter being compounded by reason of their having that light.
In regard to the kings of the earth bringing their glory into it, many translations render this “unto it.” No one from earth (even the millennial earth) will enter the heavenly Jerusalem until the Millennium has ended. The inhabitants of the millennial earth, by entering the earthly Jerusalem, could thus be said to bring their glory representatively into the heavenly Jerusalem, since the earthly will represent the heavenly, but clearly the city being described here is the heavenly, not her earthly counterpart.
21:25. “And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.”
Many, forgetting apparently the guardian angels stationed there, have taken these ever open gates to represent easy access to God. The thought however, appears to be connected with rule rather than access. As noted already, the gate was the place of government in the ancient world, and the same thought appears to be attached to these gates. Their being open, then, may point rather to the fact that in the Millennium there will be no interruption, as there is now, of God’s government of the earth. Today, the will of man, by God’s permission, opposes that government, and mars the perfection of its operation; but in the Millennium there will be no such evil activity: the earth will bask in the blessedness of God’s will being done on earth as in heaven. These ever open gates are a peculiarly appropriate symbol of the free outflow of the blessing that is inseparable from the unhindered operation of the divine government.
“... for there shall be no night there.” Night is invariably connected with the activity of evil. There will be no such activity in that glorious city; nor will sin be tolerated on the earth bathed in its brilliant light. In the Millennium, the moment the sin in the heart of the rebel becomes overt, he will die.
21:26. “And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.”
As in verse 24, many translations give unto rather than into, and the comments given there apply here also.
21:27. “And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Only the redeemed will enter that holy city. This assurance is fraught with terrible consequences for those who refuse to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior: they must enter the eternal torment of the lake of fire.