28. The Eternal State (Rev 21:1-22:5)
Throughout the book the words “and I saw” have been John’s characteristic designation for new details of revelation given to him. In this chapter these words appear three times for three major elements of revelation which the Lord wants to call to our attention through the visions given to John.
(1) In 21:1 John saw the new heaven and the new earth. This clearly indicates that what follows is of the eternal state and bliss of the redeemed.
(2) Then in 21:2 John saw the descent of the New Jerusalem. This is followed by revelation of new conditions with a description of the new Jerusalem. This too is related to the eternal state, though it will also be in existence in the Millennium and the home of the church of Jesus Christ and of Old Testament saints like Abraham.
(3) Finally, in 21:22 John again wrote, “I saw.” What follows still deals with the new Jerusalem, only now the revelation deals with some special delights regarding the spiritual and physical conditions of the new Jerusalem.
Throughout Revelation 21:1-22:5 the discussion concerns the new Jerusalem and the eternal state. This seems quite clear from two main factors: (a) The close association apparent between 21:1 and 2, the new Jerusalem is seen following the vision of the new heaven and earth; and (b) the natural chronology of the book. Most consider this entire section as prophetic of the eternal state.
Some, however, think 21:9-22:5 refers to the Millennium. They think this because the nature of some of the things mentioned seem to be out of character with the eternal state, such as: (a) the mention of the nations and kings of the earth (21:24), and (b) the mention of healing (22:2). These have explanations, however, and can be easily applied to the eternal state as we shall see in the exposition that follows.
Ryrie has an important comment on these verses and this problem. He says,
Perhaps the best way to understand this entire section is to regard the new Jerusalem as the abode of the redeemed of all ages. Conditions within the new Jerusalem are conditions of eternity. Of course the redeemed will be inhabiting the city during the Millennium as well as during eternity. Always the conditions within the city are eternal, even when the city is related to the Millennium. This is no different from the present, for loved ones in heaven are enjoying eternal conditions as is God even though these eternal conditions impinge on time (as, for instance, on the Mount of Transfiguration or this entire vision given to John in the revelation). In other words, the new Jerusalem is the abode of the redeemed during the Millennium and during eternity.239
The Declaration of the New Heaven and Earth
There is very little revealed about the character of the new heaven and earth in Scripture (cf. Isa. 65:17; 66:22). The main emphasis is its uniqueness; it is quite different from the old. The new heaven and earth is not simply the old renovated but an act of new creation (cf. Rev. 20:1f with 20:11 and 2 Pet. 3:10, which describes the dissolving of the old heaven and earth). The word “new” here is kainos which means fresh, new in quality and character. Further, in the Greek text the words “heaven” and “earth” are without the article stressing the aspect of quality rather than identity. Literally, it is “heaven, new, and an earth, new” not “the new heaven …” The use of the adjective kainos plus this anarthrous construction (absence of the article) serves to further emphasize the qualitative difference even though we aren’t told a great deal about this difference.
One striking statement is made, “there was no longer any sea.” “Sea” refers to a lake, sea, or body of water. Most of the earth is now covered with water which is vital to man’s survival, but apparently in the new earth there will be no bodies of water except for the one river mentioned in 22:1-2. Man in the eternal state and in his glorified body evidently will not need water as he does today to sustain him physically. There will be water, but it will speak of power, purity, and eternal life in the eternal city which has its constant source of life in God.
Unfortunately it appears (or fortunately depending on your outlook) there will be no fishing. Man will be able to eat and drink, but it will not be necessary for survival as it is today, at least not in the same way. It also indicates a completely different type of climate. Only a few passages in the Word deal with the new heaven and new earth and these are often in a context dealing with both the Millennium and eternal state which causes some confusion due to our limited understanding (cf. Isa. 65:17f; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13).
This kind of thing is not uncommon in prophetic literature and should not cause confusion. A prophetic passage will often mention two events together which, chronologically in their fulfillment, are separated by a large interval of time. Some illustrations of this are: (a) Isaiah 61:1-2a describes the ministry of Messiah at His first coming and verses 2b-3 describe His second coming. So in Luke 4:18-19 Christ quoted Isaiah 61:1-2a and then said “today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). But He stopped in the middle of Isaiah 61:2 since, as Ryrie points out, “at His first coming He preached only ‘the favorable year of the Lord’ (vs. l9). The ‘day of vengeance of our God’ (Isa. 61:2b) was reserved for His second coming.”240 (b) The resurrection of the just and the unjust are both spoken of in John 5:29 as though they are one event, yet Revelation 20 clearly reveals they are separated by an interval of a thousand years (cf. also Dan. 12:2). (c) 2 Peter 3:10-13 speaks of the Day of the Lord, the Tribulation, and of the destruction of the heavens and the earth as though they were one and the same or close together, yet Revelation shows they are separated by a thousand years. The mention of two prophetic events together does not mean that they are one and the same or that they occur together or should be confused. We must consider all of Scripture together and when all the passages dealing with certain events are considered, then the sequence and chronology become evident.
The Descent of the New Jerusalem
Regarding this new city, the Greek literally says, “and the city, the holy one, new Jerusalem, I saw descending out of heaven from God.” The emphasis by the word order is on the character of the city. It is the holy city, new Jerusalem and this is seen in striking contrast to the Jerusalem of the Tribulation which is called “Sodom and Egypt” (Rev. 11:8). Revelation 21:2b-22:5 will develop and describe the special holiness of this new Jerusalem.
The second point of emphasis according to the word order of the Greek is the word “prepared” which stands first in the attached descriptive clause. In John 14:2 our Lord said “… I go to prepare a place for you.” The verb there and here is the same, it is the verb Jetoimazw, “to prepare, make ready.” The indication in John 14:3 is that when Christ would come for His bride, the church, this place would at that time be prepared as her dwelling place. This teaches us that the new Jerusalem is prepared during the church age as a place for the bride and will be in existence at the rapture, during the Tribulation, and the Millennium. It will be the home of the church and our eternal abode there begins right after Christ comes for His bride. The author of Hebrews speaks of the heavenly Jerusalem as the abode and hope of the saints (Heb. 12:22-24).
Note that the city comes down out of heaven from God and is in some way related to the earth. But it is nevertheless a heavenly city, not an earthly city. Because of its heavenly nature it may be like a satellite city which will orbit or hover above the earth and will finally settle upon it during the Millennium (cf. 20:9). This idea of Jerusalem as a satellite during the Millennium is of course only by implication and not by definite statement. If this is so, then this heavenly city will be withdrawn at the end of the Millennium in connection with the destruction of the old heaven and earth.
“Made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” compares the city to a bride, but this does not limit the city to the church. All saints will ultimately live in this city (cf. Heb. 11:10, 16). The figure of the bride simply emphasizes the following: (a) as marriage is designed to be permanent, so this will be our permanent or eternal abode, (b) as a bride is beautifully adorned for her wedding, so this stresses the beauty of this city as it is adorned for the saints, and (c) as the bride is to be pure, it portrays the purity of the holy city.
The Conditions of the New Jerusalem
The Personal Dwelling of God Among Men (3)
While John is beholding the descending city, his attention is diverted by a loud voice—the last time of 21 times that either a “great” or a “loud” voice is mentioned. This is always an indication of an important piece of revelation that is about to be unfolded. It is significant that the last loud voice announces the dwelling of God among men. Though God is the independent God of the universe, He, in His love, longs to dwell among us in order to have fellowship with us and to bless us with His personal care. This ought to touch our hearts and cause us to draw near to Him.
“The tabernacle of God is among men …” “Tabernacle” stands for “dwelling place, a place of abode,” or of one’s “personal presence.” And where is that? “Among men.” The word “among” used here and in the next clause is the Greek preposition meta, which is used of association or companionship or fellowship. Note that the verse goes on to emphasize “God Himself shall be among them,” and “they shall be His people,” a result of the other. This verse denotes the most intimate and close fellowship with God in a perfect and unbroken way and on a face-to-face basis. This will be far beyond the knowledge of His presence and indwelling which believers can know today. Today we speak to Him in prayer and He speaks to us in His Word, but then He will be openly and visibly in our midst, personally ministering to our needs. The full scope of this is far beyond our comprehension today. What follows is a result of this personal presence of God in the most personal way among men.
Old Experiences will be Excluded (4)
In this life certain sorrows and perplexities are always with us. And from the nature of this life we may wonder how they could ever be removed, that they must follow us into eternity. It’s perhaps hard to imagine life without our sorrows and pain. Take for instance the sorrow and regret that one might have over sin and failures. What about the loved one who never trusted in Jesus Christ, say a father or sister or son or daughter? How can the pain of their eternal separation ever be removed? These verses give us God’s assurance that our present perplexities and sorrows, and indeed even their remembrance, will be wiped away, which undoubtedly includes answers with understanding. Note that “tear” is singular, every single tear.
Verse 4 promises us no more tears, mourning, crying, or pain. This means perfect, uninterrupted happiness and peace. It appears that with God visibly and personally in our midst, there will be absolutely no possibility of unhappiness. Today we all experience pain, sorrow, and misery to some degree. Even with believers who are walking intimately with the Lord and know the joy of His care there are still many times of pain and sorrow. That is life as we know it today. Of course, the more we walk with the Lord and rest in His goodness and care, the greater our peace and joy even in extreme pressure, but even then, there will still be pain.
The emphasis of these verses is that it is God’s visible and personal presence that gives this perfect happiness and blessing and not simply the removal of the sources of our problems. Oh, how this should be a reminder and an exhortation to us now to put fellowship with the living Christ as our number one priority. We need to practice awareness of and faith in the personal presence and care of our Lord (Heb. 13:4-5; Matt. 28:20; Phil. 4:5b-7; Josh. 1:51).
“The first things have passed away” refers to all the conditions of this present world—Satan, sin, a sinful nature, and death, etc. Everything associated with Satan and his rebellion and man, his fall and rebellion, everything except believers themselves, will be removed, put away. In fact, “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (see Isa. 65:17b).
New Things will be Experienced (5-7)
With the passing away of the old something new must take its place, so we are now presented with the new things which God will create for His people. Interestingly, however, these verses begin with the words “the One sitting on the throne.” Why mention this? To stress God’s permanent sovereignty, especially in a context dealing with creation. Creation has always been a mighty display of God’s sovereign power, but man one way or another, under the delusions of the evil one, has sought to remove God from His throne and tried to enthrone himself as a god. In one system after another—mysticism, communism, atheism, scientism, and humanism, etc.—man has sought to ignore and reject the God of creation.
The foundation to all of this is man’s viewpoint of origins. Was man created by a personal God or did he just evolve? Is man the product of some impersonal force of which he is a part? The Word of God teaches us that God can be known by things which he has made; this gives God-consciousness (Rom. 1:18-20; Psalm 19:1-6), and that he can be intimately known through the Scriptures, God’s personal revelation of Himself and of His Son (1 Tim. 3:16; Psalm 19:7-9). But mankind as a whole rejects the knowledge of God or the light of nature and Scripture because his deeds are evil (John 3:19-21). Because of his ungodliness (negative volition) and unrighteousness (immoral twist) he suppresses the knowledge of God and in its place he inserts his own idea of origins; he deifies himself or sees himself as evolving and becoming god-like in the vanity of his own darkened imaginations and satanic delusions (Gen. 3:3; Rom. 1:18, 21; 2 Thess. 2:10-12).
Through the moral twist by which man rejects the light, he looks at the created universe and comes up with such ideas as the doctrine of uniformitarianism (the theory that all geologic phenomena may be explained as the result of existing forces having operated uniformly from the origin of the earth to the present time), and based on that, evolution. This becomes man’s escape (he thinks) from responsibility to a sovereign God. His claim is that evolution shows us there is no need of God or of the supernatural, i.e., of God who sits on the throne. This is one of man’s ways to stifle (sear) his conscience and deny God His sovereign rights.
It is very important to note that the original exponents and writers of the various “isms” nearly always begin from evolutionary presuppositions. This was true with the militarism of Hitler, with Marx and Engels, and with the mystical religions of the East. Julian Huxley, one of the world’s most famous evolutionary biologists, said, “Darwinism removed the whole idea of God as the creator of organisms from the sphere of rational discussion. Darwin pointed out that no supernatural designer was needed.”241
So what does all this have to do with this passage? Everything. This whole passage, verses 1 and following, is dealing with God’s sovereignty in creation. Further, it is the belief of modern man and the new age movement that man can make all things new in his brave new world, a world of peace and prosperity.
But what does our passage promise? “Behold, I am making all things new.” “Behold” is an aorist imperative of the verb %oraw used as a demonstrative particle to arrest the attention. Literally it connotes the ideas of “discern immediately, pay attention, note this carefully and now.” The principle that should be noted is, only God, the One sitting on the throne, can make all things new.
Then we have “I am making.” This is the present tense used as a future present of absolute certainty. This is so certain that it is viewed as even now in the process. And for God who is the eternal I AM, the Alpha and Omega (verse 6), this is so. “Making,” the verb poiew, “to do, make, execute,” is used here in the sense of “create” (cf. Acts 4:24 where the same word is used). “New” is the Greek kainos which stresses new in quality.
So John is told “write, for these words are faithful and true.” “Write” is an aorist imperative in the Greek which means “do it now,” suggesting urgency and importance, i.e., “put it down,” it is to become part of revelation and God’s special promise for His people. As man can believe the words of Scripture regarding the original creation, so he can believe the words of Scripture regarding the new creation.
In verse 6 John was told “it is done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” “It is done” is the perfect tense (gegonen) of the verb ginomai, “to come into being, happen, become.” Depending on the context, it may mean, “be made, done, performed, etc.” The perfect may be used to emphasize the accomplishment of something from which a present state emerges (consummative perfect) or it may stress the results, the present state accomplished by the past action (resultative perfect). The question is to what does this refer? Does it refer to the new creation or, as Walvoord suggests, to “the work accomplished throughout the whole drama of human history prior to the eternal state.”242 It would seem that the context better supports the new creation. This is the view of the NIV Bible Commentary which says, “Using the same word that declared the judgment of the world finished, God proclaims that He has completed His new creation: ‘It is done’” (cf. 16:17).243 Though the new creation is still in the future, these words solidly affirm the creation of all things new as though already accomplished. And what’s the basis of this? The sovereign independence and eternality of God as the Alpha and Omega, the first and last word on all things.
Now we see some of the new things enumerated (vss. 6b-7).
First, there will be the water of life for all who thirst. Here is the offer of salvation that comes as a free gift, “without cost.” “All who thirst” refers to all who recognize their need, the spiritually parched condition of their soul, and come to Christ as the source of the water of life” (cf. John 4:10; 7:37-39; Isa. 55:1). “Without cost” means of course, by grace, as God’s gift to those who come to Christ by faith (John 7:38). In this context, “the spring of the water of life” ultimately refers to the complete satisfaction of life that will come to the child of God in the eternal state (cf. Rev. 17:17).
Second, there is the promise of a full inheritance to the one who overcomes (vs. 7a). Contextually, the overcomer promises of chapters 2 and 3 suggest added blessings and delights, like reigning with Christ for those who faithfully overcome the particular temptations and testings they face. Here the context is different (vss. 6b, 7b) and views the overcomer as one who quenches his thirst by simple faith in Christ and, as a result, becomes God’s son (cf. 1 John 5:4-5 and Gal. 3:26). All of God’s people, Old and New Testament saints alike, will inherit the blessings of the eternal state, nothing will be lacking.
Finally, another special promise is made to the overcomer. He will have complete and unbroken fellowship with God (vs. 7b), “and I will be his God and he will be My son.”
The Exclusion of Certain Ones from the Eternal State (8)
This verse stands as a point of contrast. Heaven will be everything that this life cannot be because of the presence of sin, darkness, sinful behavior, and Satan’s ever present activity. Today, one of the great sources of pain and misery is the very presence of those who are characterized by the things listed in verse 8. By contrast to the believer who inherits these new things, including a glorified resurrected body without the presence of a sinful nature, is the unbeliever who is permanently excluded by the second death, the eternal lake of fire. In contrast to those who will die in their sins and who must, therefore, continue in their evil character, are believers who, in their glorified state, can never be guilty of such sins. This is clearly the point of this passage where the blessed conditions of our eternal future are being described. Just as Satan will not be there to cause misery and pain, so neither will those who commit such sin. The point of this entire section is the perfect purity and absence of anything impure or evil, not even is there the absence of light (cf. vs. 23-25). Nothing unclean can be there (cf. vs. 27).
Revelation 21:8 is often presented as describing the kind of character that disqualifies one from the new Jerusalem and the eternal state. If anyone is characterized by any of the sins listed, then he can’t be in the New Jerusalem, etc. But this suggests salvation by works and the immediate context has just emphasized receiving the water of life “without cost.” To escape this works mentality, it is sometimes argued that verse 8 is viewed as giving a general picture of the type of things that characterize the unbeliever and demonstrate his lack of faith in Christ and so also his lack of new life. Because the unbeliever has rejected God and is operating on human viewpoint foundations, these things will often overcome him and characterize his life. Further, it is sometimes pointed out that the terms used here are adjectives and describe a habitual pattern versus an occasional sin. It is then argued that such people are not lost because they habitually do such things, but that they habitually act as they do because they are lost. This is the argument of those who promote the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.
But I personally think this approach misses the point of the passage. In the first place, many unbelievers are not characterized by most of the things listed here. Apart from being “unbelieving,” many unbelievers are moral and characterized by integrity, yet they too will be excluded because of their unbelief. Verse 8 is not describing what qualifies or disqualifies people from the standpoint of their behavior while here on earth, but showing what kind of people cannot be a part of the eternal kingdom in the future.
Bob Wilkin of Grace Evangelical Society has a perspective on this passage that better fits the context and thrust of 21:8. He writes:
It is a mistake to think that this verse is describing the way the unsaved behave here and now. The verse says nothing about the current behavior of believers or unbelievers. Rather, it concerns the eternal sinfulness of unbelievers.
A parallel passage is John 8:24: “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” Unbelievers die in a state of sinfulness. Forever they remain sinners. Believers, however, do not remain in a state of sinfulness because they are justified by faith: “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Rom 4:8; see also vv 1-7 and Rom 8:33-34).
Revelation 21:8 says nothing about whether believers actually sin prior to death or not. Of course we know that they do. However, that is not in view in Rev 21:8. What is actually in view is the continued unregenerate and unjustified state of the lost. Because unbelievers upon death are sealed permanently as those who are unjustified, they remain sinners in God’s sight forever.
There will be no sinners and no sin in the new heavens and the new earth. According to 1 John 3:2, “when He is revealed, we shall be like Him.”
It is interesting to note that this basic message is found three times in Revelation 21-22 (Rev 21:8, 27; and 22:15), the section of the book dealing with the eternal kingdom. A comparison of these three passages, and particularly the first and last, supports the conclusion that the sinful state of those in hell is what is in view…
If the kingdom contained those still in a sinful state, it would not be as glorious as God intends. That would put an eternal damper on the joy the Lord Himself and we, His subjects, could experience.
Revelation 21:8 should be a joyous verse for us. Those who interpret it to mean that we need to examine our behavior to see if we are saved (or if we are still saved) have robbed it of its joy and replaced it with works-salvation gloom.
The kingdom will be truly joyful because everyone in it will be holy and sinless.244
The Description of the New Jerusalem
John has given us a brief look at some of the glories of eternity in verses 1-8. One such glory is the new Jerusalem adorned like a bride. So now in 21:9-22:5 more details are given about this glorious city, the eternal home of the redeemed. Revelation 21:9-21 will be a general description of the construction of the city. Then in 21:22-22:5 we are given a look at some of the special spiritual and physical delights of our eternal home.
The General, Overall Description (9-11)
As a Bride, the Wife of the Lamb (9-10)
“And one of the seven angels …” (vs. 9). As this verse shows, this angel’s ministry was one of severe judgment, a judgment which from our standpoint is still future, but here his ministry is one revealing doctrinal truth to John, a much more enjoyable task.
“The bride, the wife of the Lamb” is a description, as verse 10 shows us, of the new Jerusalem which is again seen coming down out of heaven from God. Why is the new Jerusalem called the bride, the wife of the Lamb? In verse 2 we are told the city was “made ready as a bride adorned for her husband,” but here new Jerusalem is called the bride. There are at least two reasons for this: the first is seen, as suggested in verse 2, in the beautiful analogy of the figure of a bride. Though dealing with the church and her responsibility in witnessing Joseph Aldrich has nicely captured the picture. He says:
Ideally, a bride is the epitome of all that is right and beautiful. She is a symbol of purity, hope, purpose, trust, love, beauty, and wholeness in a world pock-marked with ugliness. The bride motif, found in both testaments, is used by God to illustrate His strategy for attracting mankind to the availability of his life changing grace.245
So God calls new Jerusalem the bride, the wife of the Lamb, because as (a) the Lord is making his bride, the church, spotless and pure (Eph. 5:26-27), so he will make beautiful the new Jerusalem, (b) as marriage is permanent, so will be the new city, and (c) as a bride is beautiful and gloriously adorned, so will be the new city.
Second, though the new Jerusalem will eventually be the home of all the redeemed, it will first be the home of the church, the bride of Christ, who will also be on display during the Millennium, the marriage feast. Remember, this is the home that He is preparing for us (John 14:2-3).
“And he carried me away in the spirit” (vs. 10) refers to a special spiritual state, a trance-like condition into which John was often taken in order to receive special revelation from God for this book (cf. 1:10; 4:2; 17:3). This goes beyond the general filling or control of the Spirit.
Then again John sees the “holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven.” Some think that because of the second mention of the city coming down out of heaven “this section describes the city’s relation to the millennial state. In other words there seems to be two descents of the city, 21:1-8 being the one in relation to eternity, and 21:9-22:5 the one in relation to the Millennium.”246 Walvoord on the other hand says, “A preferred interpretation, however, is that the passage continues to describe the new Jerusalem as it will be in the eternal state. Obviously the city would be much the same in either case …”247 As mentioned earlier, the city will exist in the Millennium and will probably hover over the earth, perhaps above the earthly Jerusalem rather than descending to settle upon the earth as suggested earlier.
As a Costly Stone … Gloriously Beautiful (11)
The glory which the new city displays is God’s glory, it is, as with all creation, a derived beauty. The new city perfectly reflects and manifests the glory of God in all His holy perfection and essence.
“Having” is a present of a continual state or condition. This city will constantly have and manifest the perfection’s of God’s being. It can and will remain beautiful because (a) all the enemies of God will have been permanently removed, and (b) because all the saints, unlike Adam and Eve, will have perfect, absolute, eternal holiness and life.
“Her brilliance was like …” “Brilliance” is the Greek fwsthr, “a luminary, a light, that which shines.” Here the word is used of a dazzling and brilliant light which is like the light and brilliance given off from an exquisite and costly stone.
“Jasper” is the Greek iaspis which was a light sky blue or green stone, primarily light green. “Crystal clear” is from a verb that means “to shine like crystal.” There are two points of truth we might note here:
(1) This city, the eternal abode of the saints, will give out a dazzling display of the glory of God. It will be more beautiful and exquisite than words can describe. This teaches us that everything in eternity will redound to the glory of God and will demonstrate God’s eternal love and care for His saints. Oh, what a Savior!
(2) Precious jewels are reflectors. By themselves they give off no light. When a jeweler wants to properly display the true brilliance of a precious gem he will often display it on a piece of black velvet cloth in order to more efficiently reflect the light shining upon the gem. The city, as it should be with believers today, will be but a reflection of the glory of God Himself who inhabits the city (cf. 21:23 with Eph. 5:8f; and Phil. 2:15).
The More Detailed Description (12-21)
The Wall and the Gates of the City (12-14)
Literally the Greek text has, “it had a wall, great and high.” The fact of a wall with its emphatic description “great and high” emphasizes the city and that all those within will be absolutely secure. Here, unlike the Garden of Eden, there can be no invasion or temptation. The wall, great and high, would also bring out the total exclusion of all unbelievers (cf. vs. 8).
Then we see that the city has 12 gates and at the gates 12 angels. The gates are named after the 12 tribes of Israel, with three gates at each side of the city, east, north, south, and west. The angels are perhaps honor guards which would again stress the security of the city as well as its glory. Ezekiel 48:31-34 may give the pattern for naming the gates. The Jerusalem described in Ezekiel 48 is the millennial Jerusalem and is probably different from this one. It will be the earthly Jerusalem into which any millennial resident can come, but into this Jerusalem, only glorified saints can come. The fact of the gates also indicates there will be free travel in and out of the city.
Notice that the number 12 is very predominant in this city; it has 12 gates named after the 12 tribes, 12 angels, 12 foundation stones inscribed with the names of the 12 apostles, 12 pearls, 12 kinds of fruit, a wall 144 cubits (12x12), and the height, width, and length is 12,000 stadia, about 15,000 miles.
The fact that the gates are named after the 12 tribes of Israel and that the foundation stones are inscribed with the names of the 12 apostles of the church should clearly show that both Israel (Old Testament saints), and the church will be a part of this city, yet note that they still remain distinct groups within the people of God.
The Dimensions of the City (15-17)
“A gold measuring rod …” Everything about the city is beautiful and valuable, even the rule with which it is measured. A measuring rod was normally ten feet long. But why is it measured and why these measurements? God is infinite and without limits or measurements, but man, even with his glorified body, is still but a creature, absolutely not God, and therefore limited. As such, this demonstrates the glory and holiness of God (cf. Ezek. 43:12).
The city is in the shape of a square and is either a cube or a pyramid. The description of verse 16 can fit either. Regardless, the balance of the shape implies perfection and reminds us of the vastness of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 3:16b-19 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Regarding verse 17 Walvoord says, “The reference to man’s measurement simply means that though an angel is using the rod, he is using human dimensions.”248
When one compares the size of the city with its wall, the wall seems extremely small. Why? Probably because the wall is symbolic. There are really no enemies to keep out. It will never again be possible for a fall or rebellion to occur because every enemy will have been defeated.
No matter what the shape, a city of this size would be necessary to hold the redeemed of all ages. In fact some have said that even a city of this size could not hold that many people. But remember the city is as high as it is wide and long, and it is not necessary to hold that all will at all times be living in the city. Many will be perhaps in various parts of the new universe carrying out responsibilities for the Lord.
The Materials of the City (18-21)
“Jasper” usually refers to green quartz. “Pure gold like clear glass” is solid gold yet transparent like crystal with a gold cast to it (vs. 21). This constant reference to the transparency of the city shows us it is designed to transmit the glory of God to every nook and cranny.
Again compare Ephesians 3:16-18. As the believer grows in the fourfold knowledge of God’s love in all categories of truth, Christ becomes more and more at home in our lives, filling every area.
“Every kind of precious stones” (vs. 19). This serves to stress the absolute and infinite beauty of this city. “Adorned” is a perfect participle of kosmew, “to adorn, be well arranged.” “Jasper” is primarily green, “sapphire” blue, “chalcedony” green, “emerald” green, “sardonyx” brown and white, “sardius” red, “chrysolyte” yellow, “beryl” green, “togas” yellow, “chrysoprasus” (or chrysophrase) apple green, “jacinth” blue, “amethyst” purple, “pearls” white.
The emphasis of the passage is on the priceless value and beauty of our eternal home and on the immeasurable grace of God. Our inheritance is beyond our comprehension. Truly, with such a future inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled, and that will not fade away, reserved and kept by the power of God, certainly we should live now as sojourners with a view to our eternal home (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3-5, 7-18; and 2:11).
Special Delights of the New City
The Temple of the City (22)
John now turns from the description of the city to life within the city. Johnson points out:
… in antiquity every notable city had at least one central temple. The New Jerusalem not only differs in this respect from ancient cities, but also from all Jewish speculation about the age to come. Illuminated by the overflowing radiance of the presence of the glory of God, the holy city no longer needs a temple (naos). Yet paradoxically, it has a temple, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (vs. 22).249
This verse stands in stark contrast to the rest of Scripture. In the Old Testament there was the need of the tabernacle and the temple and their shadows of things eternal—things which spoke not only of the Lamb as the access into God’s presence, but of the eternal holy dwelling place of God. In the Old Testament the tabernacle and temple, that which spoke of the very dwelling place of God, was the Holy of Holies (the naos). In the church age the believer himself becomes the temple, the “naos” of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). But this indwelling of the Spirit is only an arrabwn, a down payment, a partial experience of things to come (Eph. 1:14).
The word “temple” here in Revelation 21 is naos. In the eternal state there will be no need of some special temple, some special sanctuary, because believers, the saved of all ages, will be in the absolute, undiminished and intimate presence of the Almighty Sovereign God and the Lamb. The Father and Son themselves are the temple in that men will be living in the midst of the unveiled glory of God. “Lamb” is used of Jesus Christ to stress the fact that we are there because of his work as the Lamb of God. “Almighty” is used to stress that our being there is a result of His all powerful and sovereign plan of grace which has perfectly provided for our salvation.
The Light of the City (23-24)
Again we have a contrast. In fact everything about the eternal state can be nothing but a glorious contrast to what we know today on this earth. The contrast consists in part in the things which are missing. Walvoord points out that “there will be no temple, no sacrifice, no sun, no moon, no darkness, no gates to shut, no abomination.”250 We might also add that there will be nothing hidden (everything will be transparent), no shadows, no sin, no sorrows, no pain, no sickness, no disappointments.
Actually the passage does not say that there will be no sun or moon, only that there will be no need of the sun and moon because the glory of God will illuminate the city. The sun and moon in comparison with the light of the glory of God will be like turning on an outdoor light in the broad light of the sun in our world today.
The word “has” in the phrase “has no need” is a present tense of continual action. The implication is that our eternal state will never have need of either because it will be always illumined by the unveiled radiance of the glory of God’s personal presence. God’s manifested glory will be the source of light. That God Himself would be the Light of the city is entirely fitting with the rest of Scripture (John 1:7-9; 3:19; 8:12; 12:35; 1 John 1:5; Rom. 13:12; Heb. 1:3). This refers to both physical and spiritual light.
Remember that in the earthly tabernacle and temple there was artificial lighting in the holy place, the seven-branched lampstand which spoke of Christ as the Light of the world. Yet, even in the Holy of Holies, there was no such lighting because the Shekinah glory of God gave it its light, the light of God’s own presence. In the eternal city, the entire city will be the temple, the dwelling place of God with the radiance of God’s glory radiating throughout the city in all its transparent beauty.
Scripture repeatedly makes application of this contrast, and you know, it is important that we remember this. Today is a time of darkness, a time of night because of the presence of sin, Satan, sorrow, death and man’s viewpoint. But all believers are positionally lights in the Lord, and by our new spiritual capacity and position we are of the day (1 Thess. 5:4-8; Phil. 2:15; Rom. 13:12 with Eph. 5:8f, Rom. 13:13-14). So we are exhorted and commanded to walk in the light, to manifest light now because of our glorious future in the city of light. Let us live now in a manner consistent with our future, that we might see others brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light, the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:12-13).
The great principle which should be determinative and dominating in our behavior, goals, priorities and values is that the quality of our future life in the eternal city is such that it makes even the best of this life seem as only darkness. What a motivation this should be to us to live as sojourners, to persevere through the many trials of this life, and to be totally committed to our Lord. Our life in the eternal state will be everything this life cannot be. It will be a life untouched by death, unstained by evil, and unimpaired by time.
1 Peter 1:4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,
The Nations and the City (24)
First, “the nations will walk by its light.” Light undoubtedly has both a physical and a spiritual meaning and application here. For the first time in history men will walk totally by the physical and spiritual light of God’s direction. The light of God’s divine essence, His wisdom, love, power, etc., will direct our every step, thought, deed and action. There will be no stumbling, only walking steadfastly in the righteousness and joy of God.
Second, Alan Johnson reminds us:
Elsewhere in Revelation, the nations (eqnh) are pagan, rebellious peoples of the world who trample the holy city … and who have become drunk with the wine of Babylon… . The same description applies to the kings of the earth. But there is another use of these terms in Revelation. They stand for the peoples of the earth who are the servants of Christ, the redeemed nations who follow the Lamb and have resisted the beast and Babylon (1:5; 15:3; 19:16; 2:26; 5:9; 7:9; 12:5).251
John is looking at the second group here. Eqnos, the word for nations, is the Greek word for non-Jewish races, the Gentiles. John could also simply be saying that believers of non-Jewish races will also be living in the new city. In the eternal city there will be saved Israelites, the church, the bride of Christ, and multitudes of Gentiles from Old Testament and Tribulation times.
Third, the kings of the earth will bring their glory into the city. This most likely means: (a) that there will be those among the eternally saved who will have special places of honor and responsibility, like kings, as a part of their reward for service on earth, and (b) that they will bring their glory into the city, that is, like the 24 elders who cast their crowns before the throne, they will recognize that their glory and honor came from the Lord. They will attach no glory to themselves, but bring it into the city in recognition of God and His glory as the source of theirs. Here is the perspective of grace. He must increase, I must decrease, and I am what I am by the grace of God.
Access to the City (25-27)
As a precaution to a surprise enemy attack, in ancient times all gates to the city were closed. But due to the permanent light, the fact there will be no night or darkness but only light, these gates will never be closed and movement in and out of the city never be stopped. Here is a picture of the social life of the city, bustling with activity. This also points to the fact of constant and unbroken fellowship with the Lord. No one will ever walk in darkness again. One final fact here about no night; in our glorified body we will need no rest, so our lives will be full of continuous activity in the service of God. No one will ever be bored and no one will ever become tired. Can you imagine?
Finally, the emphasis of verse 27 as it pertains to nothing unclean is simply a reiteration of the promise of 21:8. It will be a place inhabited only by those who have been justified and transformed by the grace of God, sinless and in glorified bodies.
Provisions of the New Jerusalem
The River of the Water of Life (1)
Here is paradise regained. What man lost in Genesis is regained by the Lamb. In the Garden of Eden there was a river which flowed through the garden and a tree of life. So here in paradise regained we see both a river of the waters of life and a tree of life. One thing is noticeably different however. Here there is no tree of the knowledge of good and evil for here there is no possibility of invasion and rebellion again. God alone will be man’s life and his source of the knowledge of good. Man will never again try to become God.
Verse 1 begins with “and he showed me.” This is the Greek verb deiknumi which means “to show, exhibit, or make known.” This word is used eight times in this book of the disclosure of truth to John or to the bondservants of the Lord (Rev. 1:1; 4:1; 17:1; 21:9, 10; 22:1, 6, 8). As you can see the verb occurs three times in this concluding chapter. This again serves to remind us of how, as finite and sinful man we are totally in need of God’s supernatural revelation, the Bible, in order to know about the things of God, “things which eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9). Please note that 1 Corinthians 2:9 indicates that the quality of life of our future as seen in Revelation 21 is only a small part of the picture, much more awaits us!
The words “the river of the water of life” are literally “a river of water, of life.” This entire phrase is anarthrous, without any articles. As such it stresses the quality and character of this river above all other bodies of water. “Of life” points out what kind of river it is, a life-giving river. This symbolically portrays the abundance of life which God and the Lamb will provide in the eternal city.
Notice that the river is “clear as crystal.” The word “clear” is the Greek lampros meaning “bright, shining” and stresses the beauty and purity of the river in keeping with the character of God and of the new Jerusalem. The water will literally sparkle like beautiful crystal glass. The present indwelling of the Holy Spirit whom our Lord likened to rivers of living water from within our beings anticipates the river of life and our then limitless experience of abundance of life (John 8:37-39). Do you think you know joy, happiness and peace in the Lord now? Well, as the expression goes, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
“Coming down from the throne of God and of the Lamb” points us to the source of the river and the ever constant abundance of life which the river portrays. This portrays the doctrine of procession, which is an attempt to explain the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the other two persons of the trinity. The Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to indwell our lives and to constantly provide God’s special blessing of abundance of life (cf. John 14:16, 17; 15:26; 16:7; Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:9).
This picture of the river from the throne of God and the Lamb also teaches us the following: (a) the throne speaks of God’s sovereignty and reminds us that our salvation stems from God’s sovereign power, wisdom and grace (Eph. 1:3-11), and (b) by that the throne belongs to both God the Father and the Lamb. This shows the Lamb is still on the throne in the eternal state though in a different way than in the millennial kingdom (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-28).
Perhaps we can illustrate it as follows. There is a partnership of three in a corporation. A problem develops and the three partners devise a plan to which all agree. One partner goes off and executes the plan (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ). A second partner reveals the plan to the employees (i.e., the Holy Spirit). After the plan is resolved, the partner who executed the plan returns and turns everything back over to the partnership in which all three are equal partners so that the partners together might be all in all.
The Tree of Life (2)
We have had reference to a river of life and now to a tree of life which bears fruit and leaves for health. This poses a question. Does man have to drink and eat to live? Is it necessary for life? Jesus Christ ate and drank with His disciples after His resurrection in His glorified body. He could eat and did, but it wasn’t necessary to sustain the life of His glorified body. At least there is no indication of that from Scripture. If so, He would have to eat to sustain His physical body or humanity at the right hand of the Father. This does not seem to fit with Scripture. Believers will have a glorified body just like His after the resurrection (cf. Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:42, 43, 52-54; 1 John 3:2). The impact of these Scriptures is that we will have an imperishable, glorified body that will not need food for sustenance after resurrection. However, the literal tree and river will be there as symbols of the abundant life that will exist in the eternal state. All men will drink of these waters and eat of this fruit evidently as an act of testimony and faith in the perpetuity or eternality of this abundant life. In Revelation 2:7 eating of the tree of life is a promise to those who overcome. In the context of all the overcomer passages of chapters 2 and 3, it may refer to some kind of superlative experience and blessing as a reward for faithfulness. Perhaps that promise is made as a reminder and a motivation to overcome the testings of this life because they simply cannot compare to the blessings to come.
In essence, the fact the tree of life is there means to be in eternity and to possess eternal life. In Genesis 3:22-24 access is forbidden because this would have perpetuated man’s mortal body with an old sin nature. So in grace, Adam and his progeny were prevented from eating of the tree. But it was different for Adam because he had a mortal, perishable body. Perhaps for us it will be much like the Lord’s Supper, a memorial of our eternal life in Christ.
When you first read the description of the tree of life in verse 2, it appears to say that the tree is in the middle of the street and on either side of the river. A better translation is “in between the broad street and the river, on each side a tree of life” (i.e., the river on one side and the street on the other). Tree singular could be collective for trees plural (cf. Ezek. 47:12). Also “on either side” could possibly mean extending, or hanging over one side and then the other.
The point is that this tree is a special attraction and has very special meaning. Why? Because of its 12 kinds of fruit produced every month. It will stand as a special memorial and symbol of the continuousness of our eternal and abundant life and of the various aspects of our eternal life in all its wonderful blessings.
The word “tree” is xulon. It means a piece of wood or an object fashioned out of wood and was used of the cross (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24). The tree, its fruit and leaves, may also be a perpetual reminder of the cost of our spiritual blessing and eternal health. The same thing is true with the Lord’s Supper.
Finally we read “and the leaves for the healing of nations.” “Healing” is the Greek qerapeia from which we get our word therapeutic. It means literally “service, care.” The idea here is health-giving. Again men will not need to use the leaves medicinally to stay healthy, as they have throughout history. Rather they will be used in some way as a memorial of the fact that the cross—Christ being cursed on the tree for us—is the means of our eternal health (physically and spiritually).
Note the words in verse 3, “no more curse. “ The tree will stand for the removal of our spiritual sickness by the Lord Jesus Christ, being made a curse for us (cf. 1 Pet. 2:24 for the scriptural picture).
The Throne of God and the Service of the Servants (3)
“No more curse” is literally “and all the curse shall no longer be.” This is designed to stress again the absolute blessedness of this city and our eternal state in which there is absolutely no trace left of the curse of Adam’s sin, Satan’s rebellion, and our failures.
The throne with the servants serving points to an important principle. We stand in relation to God as sons, but we are also bondslaves who serve Him. The principle here is that eternity will not be a time of eternal idleness and uselessness, but a time when every person will be involved in a special vocation of service and activity for the Trinity. “Serve” is in a present tense and stresses the continuousness of our ministry. The Greek word here is latreuw which is used primarily of divine service and worship. This teaches us that we will be totally engaged in the service of the sovereign of the universe, never to be side-tracked by personal weaknesses or needs. As His bondslaves all our needs will be perfectly provided.
Thus, the word “Him” as the object of the word “serve” is a dative of advantage in the Greek. Contextually, it means we shall serve for Him and always for His glory. Today our service and activity for the Lord is often distracted and often not for His advantage. We fail and we foul up again and again. But then it will always be for the glory and advantage of God.
The Perfect Fellowship of the New City (4-5)
Perfect Sight Via Face to Face Fellowship (4a)
Right after the mention of service to the Lord we read, “and they shall see His face.” Isn’t this often what we lack today in our service for the Savior? Even though our Lord promises us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b), and “… He Himself said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5b), in the pressures of service and the everyday trials of this life, our problem is often precisely in this very area; we fail to see the face of our Lord or to count on His presence, comfort, and support. We become occupied with our problems and fail to see Jesus and look unto Him (cf. Heb. 2:9; 12:1-2 with Psalm 16:7-11).
The face of our Lord in His ministry among men must have been a face which spoke volumes because of His character, control, love, sympathy, and understanding. Remember that the third time Peter denied the Lord during His trials, Luke tells us that “the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord … and he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62). The Lord only looked at Peter, but His face and those eyes said it all. One of the most important elements of communication and fellowship is not only what we say, but the way we say them, our tone of voice, and especially facial expressions. The telephone and written notes or letters are wonderful mediums of expression and communication, but nothing compares with face-to-face fellowship to communicate love, sympathy and support, or encouragement.
The word “see” in this clause is a future indicative which in Greek grammar points to a real future experience for every believer, no ifs, buts, or maybes. Today in time, seeing the Lord through our fellowship with Him in His Word, staying occupied with His divine essence and work in our lives through the promises of the Word is full of ‘ifs’ because of our own failures. Today, focusing our hearts and minds on the Lord is a wonderful potential through eyes of faith and confidence in the promises of the Word, but it is still full of the ‘ifs’ of whether or not we will look unto Jesus, keep our eyes on Him. But not in eternity. With our service then, there will always be the smiling and loving face of the Savior.
The word “see” is the Greek %oraw which is used of both physical and spiritual (or mental) vision. Both are involved here. For the first time man in the eternal city and state will have an absolute and undiminished perspective of God both physically and spiritually.
So “seeing His face” stands first for being face to face with the Lord, in His very presence. It means having perfect fellowship and clear understanding and illumination by the light of His countenance. It stands for a fellowship and understanding which is unblemished by our ignorance, or sins, or prejudices, or preoccupations with personalities, or anything else that might dim the light or distort the truth to our eyes or minds.
Today in Scripture, God uses anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms so we can understand ideas about what God is like. But then we will be in the direct presence of God with no fog or blurs to dim our vision of God. Today we believe in and teach the doctrine of the trinity. We know it, teach it, illustrate it, and believe it, but who can truly say he understands it? But then we will.
A Perfect Name and Identification (4b)
“And His name shall be on their foreheads” (cf. 7:3; 14:1; 2:17; 3:12). The name on the forehead stands as a seal and proof of ownership and belongingness. It will be our identification and guarantee that we are the Lord’s and belong to the eternal city, qualified to be there by the work of the Lamb. To help grasp the significance of this, note the following four points:
(1) Those who took the mark of the beast on their foreheads (13:16) as a sign of their obedience and worship of the beast had their names removed from the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 13:8; 17:8; 19:20).
(2) The mark of the beast was either his name, a counterfeit to God’s name, or his number, 666 (13:17).
(3) In Revelation 13:18 men are warned to carefully calculate the number of the beast and its meaning for no matter how far you carry out the number 666 it never becomes seven, the number of perfection, the number of God (cf. Rom. 3:23).
(4) Those who have the mark of the beast fall short and are excluded from the eternal city, but those who have the name of God are accepted and belong to the eternal city because they are there through faith in the person and work of the Lamb.
Perfect Light and Illumination (5a)
Again we have an emphasis on the light or illuminating character of the eternal city (cf. 21:11, 23, 25). All light in the city will come directly from God’s presence which means: (a) the light in the new city will be perfect and complete (total). God who is absolute Light and in whom there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5) can allow no darkness in the eternal city of His presence. (b) All the past sources of light, which were partial at best, will be rendered inoperative or superseded by the perfection and infinite light of the personal presence of God Himself; this includes both physical and spiritual light. So our passage says, “and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun.” Why? “Because the Lord shall illumine them.” As I sit at my desk writing this it is late morning, the sun is high, yet its light is dimmed because of fog and cloudy skies, but no such conditions can occur in the eternal city of God’s glorious presence either physically or spiritually.
Perfect Exaltation (5b)
“And they (the saints) shall reign forever and ever.” Why is this inserted here? I believe there is an important connection. Man originally lost his capacity to reign over the creation of God because he listened to the one of darkness. Our reigning with the Lord in the eternal state proceeds from our fellowship and from the illuminating presence of God and from this there can and will be no break or interference.
In summary of this section of Revelation, what do we have in the eternal and blessed city of the New Jerusalem?
(1) Perfect restoration (no more curse, paradise regained),
(2) Perfect administration (the very throne of God and the Lamb shall be on it),
(3) Perfect subordination (His servants shall serve Him),
(4) Perfect transformation (the saints shall see His face and we shall be like Him [1 John 3:2]),
(5) Perfect identification (His Name on our foreheads),
(6) Perfect illumination (He Himself shall illumine us),
(7) Perfect exaltation (we shall reign forever and ever).
Here are seven perfect conditions pointing to one absolutely perfect state. Hallelujah, what a Savior! How great is our salvation in Christ!!!
239 Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p. 118-119.
240 Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NASB, Moody Press, Chicago, 1995, p. 1627.
241 Julian Huxley, Essays of the Humanist, p. 78.
242 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 316.
243 NIV Bible Commentary, electronic version.
244 “Grace In Focus,” September 1993. This is from the newsletter published by Grace Evangelical Society. Check out their web site at .
245 Joseph C. Aldrich, Life Style Evangelism, Multnomah Press, Portland, 1978, p. 25.
246 Ryrie, Revelation, p. 120.
247 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, “Revelation,” Scripture Press, Wheaton, IL, 1983, 1985, p. 985.
249 NIV Bible Commentary, electronic version, quoting Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan, 1981, p. 597.
250 Walvoord, The Revelation p. 326.
251 Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 598.
Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)