I want to offer some thoughts on Revelation chs 21&22.
These are the last two chapters of Revelation, of course. The story has reached its destination in the "new Jerusalem".
So I'm going to be asking the question; what are these chapters telling us about this new city?
From the beginning of ch 21, we're finding ourselves in a renewed world, a different kind of world. This is fulfilling the promise of "a new heavens
and a new earth", which the Lord made in Isaiah ch60 v22.
In the rest of Revelation, we find a three-way division of the world, into "heaven, the earth, and the sea".
In the renewed universe, though, the old heaven and the old earth have "passed away" (APELTHON), while the sea "is not, any longer" (OUK ESTIN
The difference between these two expressions is very significant.
That phrase "is not" connects the sea with the "Beast from the sea", which "was and is not
, and is to come" in ch17 v8.
It marks them both as polar opposites to the God who IS
("and was, and is to come").
In the Creation story of Genesis, the sea is a portion of the great "abyss", the material from which God made an ordered world fit for human
habitation. So it represents a "reservoir" of material not suitable for God's world, and becomes, in Revelation, one of the symbols of the source of
That's why the sea is not going to be replaced.
The new Jerusalem then comes down "as a bride adorned for her husband".
This fulfils the promise which the Lord makes about the time when his people have been reconciled;
"I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy."- Hosea ch2 v19.
And the relation between Christ and the church is described in much the same way.
For Christ loved the church, and sanctified it, "that he might present the church to himself in splendour...that she might be holy and without
blemish."- Ephesians ch5 vv25-27
So if Jerusalem is the "bride", "Jerusalem" must represent the coming together of God's people.
The next part of the teaching is about God's presence with his people, and what this means for them.
So the "loud voice" in v3 proclaims the fulfilment of the promise in Ezekiel;
"My dwelling-place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people"- Ezekiel ch37 v37
While the effect of God's presence is the absence of evil things, and this is the fulfilment of other promises;
"He shall swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God shall wipe away tears from all eyes"- Isaiah ch25 v8
And again; "They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and murning shall flee away"- Isaiah ch38 v14
The throne in these chapters is called "the throne of God and of the Lamb", and they do seem to be speaking with the same voice.
The one who sits upon the throne says "Behold, I make all things new"- which could only be possible for the God who made the world in the first
He applies to his own words the description "trustworthy and true". But that same phrase- PISTOS KAI ALETHINOS- has been used in this book (in ch3
v14, and ch19 v11), as one of the titles of Christ.
Then he calls himself "the Alpha and the Omega"- like the Lord God Almighty in ch1 v8, but also like that Jesus who is "coming soon" in ch22 v12.
And there's a resemblance in thought between "It is done!" and "It is finished!", the last word that Jesus spoke on the Cross.
This may not be a coincidence, because what happened on the Cross, as we learned in ch5, made possible the "breaking of the seals" and all the
subsequent events in Revelation, leading up to this triumphant conclusion.
So what God does for his people is based partly on the his inherent power as the Creator-God-
And partly on the Atonement, the driving-force at the heart of everything that happens in Revelation.
There's the same kind of ambiguity in the content of the promise.
The promise of water, for those who thirst, is partly based on the Lord's offer to Israel ("without price", Isaiah ch51 v1), and partly on the
promises made by Jesus ("a spring of water welling up to eternal life"- John ch4 v14)
It was Christ, in the letters to the seven churches, who was making promises "to him who conquers".
But the exact nature of the promised heritage- that "he shall be my son"- shows that the offer comes ultimately from the Father
The other side of the coin is that some characters find themselves excluded.
They've already been thron into the "lake of fire".
At the head of the list come the cowardly and the "faithless" (APISTOI)- perhaps because of the failure to resist the Beast. They certainly sound like
the opposite of "faithful and true".
The rest of the list partly resembles Paul's roster of those who will not "inherit the kingdom of God"- 1 Corinthians ch7 v9.
These are all different ways of "failing to conquer"
The next stage in the vision echoes the great "Temple" vision at the end of Ezekiel (from ch40)
The prophet is taken to a very high mountain to see what resembles a city.
He then watches while the Temple is measured, in preparation for the Lord's return to it in ch43.
(Revelation has already given us one version of the "measuring of the Temple", at the beginning of ch11).
In this vision, though, we see a different set of measurements.
In fact the dimensions found in this chapter are much the same as the numbers being quoted in ch7, during the "sealing" of the servants of God.
In ch7, there were 12,000 sealed in each tribe, and this was my interpretation of that number;
"10" has been described as the number of completeness or perfection. I think of it as pointing us towards "the full extent of the world".
"1000" is the cubed version of "10"; "10" is taken three times and multiplied out, and that's the result. I think of it as God's version of "10"; the
full extent of God's world.
And all the way through the Bible, "12" is the number which points us towards "God's people".
So I understand this number to represent "God's people occupying the fullness of Gods' world".
Then here in ch21, we find that the basic dimensions of the city are 12.000 stadia in each direction.
And I would understand this number in exactly the same way as in ch7.
It represents God's people occupying the fullness of God's world.
In ch7, there was a list of the "12 tribes".
Since 12,000 were sealed in each tribe, the end-result was the number 144,000.
Then, here in this chapter, each of the tribes has a dedicated gate.
I would understand the "12 tribes" in both chapters to mean, generically "the people of God" (rather than. specifically, "the Jews").
This chapter's version of the "12 x 12" comes in the width of the walls, which is given as 144 cubits.
(And it may be worth noting that the city appears to be in the shape of a cube, which would have 12 edges)
So the message of the dimensions, like the message of the "bride" metaphor, seems to be that "Jerusalem" represents the coming together of God's
The construction of the city is very ornate, with streets of gold, gates of pearl, and precious stones of every kind in the foundations.
I can leave it to other people to find symbolism in the individual stones.
The point is that the appearance of the city is overwhelmingly glorious.
And this fulfils the Old Testament promises that the old glories of Jerusalem would be restored.
In particular, the end of the chapter fulfils promises found in Isaiah.
In the backgound of v23, we can find;
"The sun shall be no more your light by day
Nor for brightness shall the moon be your light by night;
But the Lord shall be your everlasting light,
And your God shall be your glory"- Isaiah ch60 vv19-20
The historical experience of Jerusalem was that nations and their kings had been taking wealth away from Jerusalem. Isaiah was also promising that
this would be reversed;
"Your gates shall be open continually,
Day and night they shall not be shut;
That men may bring to you the wealth of the nations
With their kings led in procession"- Isaiah ch60 v11.
And the fulfilment of this promise can be rcognised in vv24-26.
The point is evidently that the vision of these last two chapters represents the fulfilment, though in symbolic ways, of everything that God has ever
promised to his people.
Finally, the centre of the city is occupied by an image, or a combination of images, relating to Life.
The stream of water echoes the stream that flows in Ezekiel ch47, issuing from the threshold of the Temple. In the prophet's vision it becomes a great
river, giving life everywhere it goes, with trees growing on either side.
Then there is the Tree of Life, which is familiar from Genesis as one of the trees found in the Garden.
My understanding of the story is that Adam and Eve would have been eating from the Tree of Life until they were expelled (this fruit had not been
forbidden, so what would have stopped them?)
But when they fell into sin, God removed them from the Garden with the express purpose that they should not [continue to] eat from this Tree. Thus
denying them access to the source of Life, and fulfilling his warning that they would become vulnerable to death.
In the combined image, it is the Tree of Life that is growing "on either side of the river".
I've seen this illustrated on the assumption that the river is flowing through the base of a single tree, but it is probably better to regard the
"Tree of Life" as a species.
Either way, the meaning of the image is that Life is freely acessible.
The tree is giving fruit twelve times a year, so it's never out of season.
(And that "12" is another reminder that the Life is made available to God's people)
And this is not just about Life, but about renewed
Life- the final healing of the breach which was made at the beginning of the Bible, and
which has been the implicitly central theme of the Bible ever since.
The message of this vision can be briefly summed up in this way;
The new Jerusalem represents the coming together of God's people.
They are living in the presence of God.
As a result, they are removed from any kind of evil, including death.
And they have permanent access to the source of Life.
Or, even more briefly;
edit on 13-2-2011 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)