This study is a continuation from the previous study in chapter 21. See the notes from the first part of the chapter for a review and a more detailed discussion of context and themes.
The final 2 chapters of Revelation describe events that will follow the Millennium. At this time, John's vision reveals that God will do away with the old heaven and earth completely, and create a new heaven and earth. We understand this to mean that God will make a new physical universe. But this time, there will be a merging of the spiritual realm and the physical realm in such a way that God will dwell in this new world with the righteous men and women who are resurrected and given this land to inhabit as their eternal home.
In Rev 21:2 John sees a new city coming down to the newly created earth from heaven. In the later part of chapter 21, John describes this city in three different ways: as a spiritual metaphor, as a physical metaphor and as heaven on earth, or we might say, heaven and earth combined.
Notice that 21:6 begins a return to the language we saw at the opening of Revelation. This supports the theme that God is a transcendent power directing events from the beginning of history to the end, a theme that reaches back to Genesis. The statement “it is done” coupled with “I make everything new” (v 5) suggests a new creation is replacing the old one that has served its purpose. Mention of “he who overcomes” also recalls the opening chapters of Revelation and suggests that there is a remnant who survive and are carried from the old creation into the new one. The nature of those who “overcome” is contrasted with that of those who do not (vv 7-8). The “lake of fire” and the “second death” are presented in sharp contrast with the “Holy City” (v 2) and the “water of life” (v 6).
Read Rev 21:9-14 – The City As A Spiritual Metaphor
Here John turns to a more detailed description of the holy city. He is guided by one of the angels who participated in the bowl judgments (Rev 17:1). The angel continues the use of the bride metaphor from verse 2, which connects this passage with the introduction. The presents of this particular angel also sets up contrasts between the bride and the great prostitute, and between Babylon and the New Jerusalem. This continues the contrast between believers and unbelievers started in verse 8.
In this part of the vision, John is taken to a mountain located on the new earth. Notice that both physical dimensions and time are part of the new creation. We see the New Jerusalem as separate from the new earth. It appears as both a physical and spiritual metaphor for God's dwelling place.
John's first observation is that the City contains the glory of God, which Ezekiel saw leave the old Jerusalem (Eze 10:4). “church. “This is the first of seven references to the Lamb in this section (vv. 9, 14, 22, 23, 27; 22:1, 3). He becomes increasingly prominent as the book draws to a close. "The Lamb is all the glory in Immanuel's land.” (Constable, cf. Anne R. Cousin, Immanuel's Land).
“The holy city descending from God out of heaven should be understood as a 'real event' within the visionary experience. . . . The descent is an announcement in visionary terms of a future event which will usher in the eternal state. That the city comes down from God means that the eternal blessedness is not an achievement of man but a gift from God.” (Robert H. Mounce)
John describes the purity of the New Jerusalem by comparing it to a precious jewel, jasper. John had earlier compared God Himself as having “the appearance of jasper and carnelian.” (Rev 4:3) The gem John describes here in verse 11 is probably what we would call a brilliant diamond.
The walls of the City with angelic guards suggest security, but the gates suggest free access. This is a description of the eternal relationship believers will have with God. That relationship is fully secure and cannot be violated or interrupted. There will always be full and complete access to God in eternity.
The gates will be named for the tribes of Israel, thus eternally memorializing God's People. The foundations will memorialize the Apostles in the same way. “The combination of the twelve tribes in verse 12 and the twelve apostles is a way of saying that Israel of old and the Christian church are united in God's final scheme of things.” (Leon Morris)
Notice that the Church has not replaced Israel in eternity, but exists in communion with her.
Read Rev 21:15-21 – The City As A Physical Metaphor
Only utensils made of pure gold were used before God in the Holy of Holies in both the tabernacle and the temple. A measuring rod of pure gold is appropriate to measure the City that will be God's dwelling place. The dimensions of this city can be understood to have both literal and a symbolic meaning.
The City John saw being measured is a perfect cube, being about 1,500 miles on a side. This is the distance between Dallas and Los Angeles, so the size of the City is the approximate size of the known world of John's day. The extreme height being included would indicate that the physical concept of heaven was part of the City.
The Holy of Holies where God dwelt in OT times was always a perfect cube. In the tabernacle in the wilderness it was 10 cubits (15 ft) on each side and in height (Ex 26:31-33). In Solomon's temple and Exekiel's temple, (1 Kn 6:16; Eze 41:4) the dimensions were 20 cubits (30 ft). Now John sees that God's new dwelling place, the New Jerusalem, is also a perfect cube.
The text uses the Greek word στάδιον [stadion], from which we get the word stadium. This was the unit of measure used to describe distance of a standard race or to describe the race course itself. The goal was placed one stadion from the starting point. The one who reached the goal first received the prize. The City of God is a perfect 12,000 stadion cube. The number 12 is often understood to be the number of governmental or administrative perfection. There were 12 tribes in Israel and 12 disciples who became 12 apostles. Also there were 12,000 men from each tribe sealed to be protected through the Tribulation (Rev 7).
The wall of the city is 144 cubits thick (216 ft). This thickness represents safety, but also this particular number is 12 squared. The walls also appeared to be overlaid with a brilliant material. Constable notes that “the whole city appeared to shine as a mass of pure gold.” This “probably meant that there was no impurity in the city.” (Robert H. Mounce)
The physical dimensions of the City represent a giant area of divine perfection constructed with materials of divine beauty and purity. It is the perfect place for God's People to live and glorify Him.
Read Rev 21:22-27 – The City As Heaven On Earth
The whole city will be God's Temple. Both the Almighty God and the Lamb are mentioned, but the Trinity is in view. “The presence of God with man was the symbol of the earthly tabernacle and temple, but in the New Jerusalem that presence is a reality.” (Constable) This is the time and place of the new communion, the time when God will bring His People into an intimate relationship.
The sun, moon and stars in the new heaven will not be needed because God's glory will illuminate the entire earth. The gates will never close for there is no night from which evil threatens. The leaders throughout the earth, all those who represent the nations of God's People, will freely enter to bring glory to their God. “In the heavenly city, everyone will honor the 'King of Kings' (see Pss. 68:29; 72:10-11; Isa. 60).” (Wiersbe)
Read Isa 60:15-22
When the leaders are subject to God, then the people are lead in His ways and have nothing to fear. No evil will enter the city because there is no evil in the land. Only those who's names are in the Lamb's Book of life will come to the city. All the others are in the lake of fire (Rev 20:15).
Read Rev 22:1-5 – Paradise Regained
“Up to this chapter, the New Jerusalem seems to be all mineral and no vegetable. Its appearance is as the dazzling display of a fabulous jewelry store; we wonder if there is no soft grass to sit upon, no green trees to enjoy, and no water to drink or food to eat. However, here are introduced the elements which add a rich softness to this city of elaborate beauty.” (J. Vernon McGee)
“And he showed me” in verse 1 indicates the sequential progression of this vision. John has moved to yet another view of this City. Now we see the New Jerusalem from the point of view of its eternal inhabitants – the true and faithful believers who have inherited this “land” because of their faith in the Lamb.
The pure river seems to be symbolic of the refreshment and sustenance that God provides through eternal life (cf. Jer. 2:13; 17:13; Ps. 36:9; Prov. 10:11; 13:14; 14:27; 16:22; Zech. 14:8), though it, like the city itself, is probably also a literal river (cf. Gen. 2:10, 14). We should not confuse this river with the one flowing from the Jerusalem temple during the Millennium (Ezek. 47:1, 9, 12; Zech. 14:8). John described the river he saw as bright or clear as a crystal; it was a shimmering, sparkling stream of unpolluted water. This river proceeded from the throne that belongs to God and the Lamb (cf. v. 3; 3:21; Isa. 35:6-9; Ezek. 47:1; Zech. 14:8; Heb. 1:3). This throne evidently stood at the head of the main street of the city so that looking down this street the throne appeared to be in its middle.
“This is a symbolic way of describing the reign of eternal life in the age to come [and God as its source]. The symbolism of a river of life is a common one in biblical thought [cf. Ps. 46:4; Ezek. 47:1-12; Zech. 14:8; John 4:10, 14].” (Constable quoting George Eldon Ladd)
“The point of the passage is to teach that in the eternal state God's people will live at the source of the life-giving stream, the very presence of God Himself ….” (Robert L. Thomas)
Now in verse 2 John saw the Tree of Life. After Adam and Eve sinned, they were banished from the Garden of Eden specifically so that they would not have access to this Tree of Life and so could not live forever in a sinful state. (Gen 2:9; 3:22-24). In the New Jerusalem, paradise is truly regained. Access to the Tree of Life is restored. The “nations” in verse 2 refers to all people, Jew and Gentile.
The tree produces fruit perpetually, rather than seasonally as do trees in our world. God's blessings flow continuously and the fruitfulness of His creation is no longer interrupted by the darkness and cold of winter nor the burning heat of summer. There is no fall for there is no death. It is perpetually spring where the river of God waters the Tree of Life.
The purpose of this tree is described by the Greek word θεραπεία, οἰκετεία [therapeia] from which we get our word therapy. The root of this word means “household service” or “to serve the house.” It was often used to mean medical service, so it is translated healing or health giving. Since there is no death or disease in this City, the purpose of the Tree of Life is to serve an ever more abundant life in communion with God. This was always its purpose. Adam and Eve didn't understand, but we do.
Joseph Dillow saw the tree of life as the source of continual communion with God. He wrote, “It seems possible therefore to understand participation in the tree of life as a regular experience of fellowshipping with God, i.e., eating of this monthly fruit.”
The curse put upon creation at the fall (Gen 3) is removed and Trinity is in full fellowship with God's People. God has marked each one as His, and all willingly serve Him with a pure heart (Gen 1:26). Righteousness and holiness flow from the throne of God to illuminate and guide God's People.
Read Rev 22:6-21 – Conclusion to Revelation
This prophecy of “what will take place later” (Rev 1:19) has been faithfully recorded by Jesus' friend and servant, John. The prophecy began with a glorious worship service in heaven (Rev 4:1; 2-11) as the Lamb prepared to take possession of His inheritance. But at that time, the earth was still filled with evil, and the Lamb faced an intense battle to defeat that evil. Now, 1007 years later, the prophecy draws to a close with the vision of another worship service honoring the Lamb. This time the worship is not just in heaven, but in a new heaven and earth combined. The Lamb's inheritance has been transformed into the paradise He always intended it to be; and with Him in that paradise are His People.
“This section consists of verbal exchanges between an angel and John, and between Jesus and John. Three emphases mark this epilogue. First, this prophecy is genuine (vv. 6-7, 8-9, 16, 18-19). Second, Jesus will return imminently (vv. 6-7, 10, 12, 20). Third, the unfit should beware, and the faithful should take courage (vv. 11-12, 15, 17-19). The whole epilogue is very similar to the first chapter in many ways.” (Constable)
John's vision concludes with verse 6 and then Jesus resumes speaking directly to John just as He did at first. Verse 7 is best described as a continuation of John's meeting with Jesus that John initially described in chapter 1 (1:8). This meeting was interrupted with the visions John reported in chapters 4-22:6, and now Jesus returns John's focus to his place there on the island of Patmos (1:9).
Remember what has taken place in John's vision since. Notice the repetition of the titles Jesus uses. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” “I am the First and the Last and the idea Jesus is the one “who is, and who was, and who is to come,” which is much the same as “the Beginning and the End.”
Jesus went on in chapters 2 and 3 to judge the churches, while making specific promises to individual “overcomers.” In Rev 21:7 we learn that it is these overcomers who will be with God in the new heaven on earth. Therefore it might be instructive to recall what Jesus said about these overcomers:
Rev 2:7 – Ephesus (lost 1st love): “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
Rev 2:11 – Smyrna (martyred): “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”
Rev 2:17 – Pergamum (syncretism, false prophets): “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”
Rev 2:25 – Thyatira (syncretism, idolatry): “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’ — just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star.”
Rev 3:5 – Sardis (spiritually dead): “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.”
Rev 3:12 – Philadelphia (faithful, hold on): “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.” (Note: The overcomers are the church.)
Rev 3:21 – Laodicea (neither hot nor cold): “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
Each one of the individual overcomers has survived judgment to be with Jesus in the New Jerusalem. They stand along with the entire Church of Philadelphia, the Old Testament Saints, the Tribulation Saints and the Millennium Saints. They are all “overcomers,” who enter into God's new creation and dwell there with God in eternity.
Notice that each promise also carries with it a warning to the church. A failure to love, martyrdom by enemies, syncretism, loss of faith and apathy are all real dangers today, and they become significant threats during the Tribulation. Yet the promises that Jesus offers to us as encouragement are but a small down payment on the full blessings given to those who faithfully love God.
So Revelation closes as it opened, with a special blessing for those who are faithful to it's teachings. Constable writes that “God intended the reader to understand this book. It is a revelation, not an incomprehensible mystery.” Today we have a choice, but soon our choice will become our destiny.
Constable writes, “This is a strong warning not to put off becoming a believer in Jesus Christ. It presents the hopelessness of the final state of unbelievers. When Christ comes, people will not be able to change their destiny. What they are then they will remain forever. People should not expect some second chance in the future but should make the decision about worshipping God now in the light of what they have read in this book (cf. Matt. 25:10; Luke 13:25; Heb. 9:27).”
The choice Jesus has given us is presented one last time in v 17. This now familiar metaphor recalls Jesus' discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:1-26), and reminds us yet again of the free gift of life that Jesus secured on our behalf. But there is also a stern warning (vv 18-19). Jesus' gifts and rewards are for the faithful who “prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20; cf. Jas 2:14-25). Those who add to or take away from the lessons of this Book also blaspheme God's Word and will not be considered faithful in the last days.
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Mt 7:22-23, cf 24-27).
“Ever, as the Church moves on through time, and above all in the days in which we live, the next thing for every Christian to be looking for in this world is the coming of Christ to fulfill what is written in this Book. The Bible tells of nothing between us and that day.” (Joseph A. Seiss)