We’ve seen how the end of chapter 20 was dark and foreboding, because John saw how the dead were judged and all those whose names were not written in the Book of Life were cast into the lake of fire along with the Devil and the beasts and death and the grave. However, after the darkness of chapter 20, chapters 21 and 22 are filled with light, because in chapters 21 and 22 John describes the vision he received from God of the heaven and the new earth where all of God’s people will enjoy perfect peace and rest in God’s presence for ever. There will be no more death and mourning or crying or pain in the new creation, because the former things will have passed away; and instead God’s people will be able to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. It’s a glorious picture of what awaits the Lord’s people whenever the Lord returns and makes all things new.
And in the verses which we’re looking at today, John continues to describe for us the vision he received.
Verses 9 and 10
And so we read in verse 9 how one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls of wrath came to John and said:
Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.
And John was carried away in the Spirit to a mountain, great and high, where he was shown the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
What we read here in verses 9 and 10 echoes what we read back in chapter 17. Chapter 17 began with one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls of wrath coming to John and saying to him that he wanted to show John something. But instead of showing him the bride, the wife of the Lamb, as the angel does in chapter 21, in chapter 17 the angel showed him the great prostitute. And then in chapter 17 we read how John was carried away in the Spirit. But he wasn’t carried away to a high mountain, but to a desert. And in the desert he saw the prostitute; and her name was Babylon the Great. In order words, the great prostitute in chapter 17 was also a city. And that prostitute, that city, represented the fallen world which was destined for destruction.
That’s what John saw in chapter 17. But the vision in chapter 21 is very different, isn’t it? Instead of a prostitute, he sees a bride. And instead of Babylon the Great, he sees the Holy City, the new Jerusalem. And whereas the prostitute and Babylon represented this fallen world which was destined for destruction, the bride and the Holy City represent the church triumphant, Christ’s church made glorious and perfect.
And John sees this bride, the Holy City, coming down out of heaven from God, because the church triumphant will one day come down from heaven to dwell in her new home, which is the new heaven and the new earth. Babylon the Great is destined for destruction; but the Holy City is destined for everlasting life.
John describes the Holy City in some detail for us. And the first thing which strikes him about this city is the light which radiated from it. It shone, he says in verse 11, with the glory of God; and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper. So, the bright light which radiated from it did not come from the sun or the moon, but from the glory of God. This is one way of conveying how God will be with his people, and his glory will surround them in the new heaven and the new earth. Whereas we need the sun and the moon to give light to this creation, the new creation will be lit up by the presence of God.
Verses 12 to 14
John next describes the city’s wall, which he says is a great and high wall. That conveys the idea of security: ancient cities needed a great and high wall in order to protect the people inside from their enemies. Well, whereas the church is now weak and vulnerable and suffers persecution, in the new creation we will be safe for ever. The great and high wall also conveys the idea of the church’s eternal purity, because nothing unclean will be able to enter it because of the high wall which surrounds the church.
But there are also gates in this wall. In fact it has twelve gates; and twelve angels stood at the gates. And on the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Back in chapter 7 John saw a vision concerning a great crowd of 144,000 people from the twelve tribes of Israel. And that great crowd of 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel represented everyone — Jew and Gentile — who has been redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, it seems likely that the names of the twelve tribes — written on the gates of the city in John’s vision in chapter 21 — represent the names of every believer. These are the names of all those who are part of this great city.
And the gates of the city were arranged around the city, so that there were three on the east side, three on the north side, three on the south side, and three on the west side. Gates are for access and the fact that these gates faced to the east and to the north and to the south and to the west conveys the idea that people from all parts of the world will come into this city and be part of it. But the fact that the angels are standing at the gates conveys the idea that access to the city is guarded; and, once again, whoever does not belong, will not be permitted to enter the city and be part of it.
And look at verse 14 now: the wall of the city had twelve foundations. And on the foundations were the names of the twelve apostles. Well, this probably symbolises how the church is built on the teaching of the apostles about Jesus Christ. You see, in the book of Acts, we read how the Apostles went about and preached the message about Jesus Christ; and people believed their message; and churches were formed. And it’s been the same ever since: the message of the apostles about Jesus Christ is preached; and when people believe it, churches are formed; and churches are built up and strengthened by their message. And so, in John’s vision of the church triumphant, he sees that it is built on the apostles who testified about Jesus Christ the Saviour.
Verses 15 to 17
John nows describes how the angel measured the city, and its gates and walls. Now, we need to remember that this is a vision and that John is using symbolic language to convey God’s truth to us. And so, the measurements of the city, like the other features of the city, are to be taken symbolically. First of all, we’re told the city was laid out like a square. In fact, since its breadth and length and height are the same, it’s really a cube. And we’re told it was 12,000 stadia wide and high and long. That’s 1,365 miles wide and high and long. It’s a massive area. The wall, we’re told, was 144 cubits. That’s about 216 feet. So, the wall is very thick and the city is very large. But we’re not to take these measurements literally, because, after all, the city is not really a city, but it’s the church of Jesus Christ.
And so, notice that 144 is 12 times 12; and 12,000 is 12 times 1,000. This connects with what we’ve just read about the names of the 12 tribes of Israel on the gates of the city, which represent the total number of the redeemed. And the massive numbers probably symbolise for us how the number of those who are redeemed and who comprise the church triumphant will be an enormous number. Furthermore, the thick wall speaks to us of the church’s eternal strength and security. And the fact that the city is a cube is significant, because the Holy Place in the Old Testament Tabernacle, was also a cube. And so, just as God dwelt in the Holy Place in the Tabernacle, so he will dwell among his people in the new creation.
Finally here, measuring the city is connected with securing the city. Just as someone who is buying some land will measure it carefully, so the Lord measures the city to ensure that it’s the right size: no one who should be there is missing; no one would shouldn’t be there has been added.
Verses 18 to 21
And then, after describing the measurements of the city, John goes on to describe what it was made of. Again, we’re to take this symbolically. So, the wall is of jasper and the city was made of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations were decorated with precious stones, while the gates were made from pearl, which is where we get the phrase ‘pearly gates’. And the roads in the city were gold, like transparent glass. The precious stones which decorated the foundations remind us of the precious stones which were placed on the breastplate of the Old Testament priest. And those precious stones, which the priest wore, represented the people of God; and so the precious stones on the foundation of the city perhaps represent the people of God who make up the city. And the gold and the pearly gates conveys the idea of the church triumphant’s glorious beauty, a beauty which will never fade or tarnish, but which will last for ever. And, of course, just as everything in the Tabernacle was made of gold, so everything in this city is made of gold, because the Lord is dwelling there with his people, and it therefore reflects his glory and majesty.
Verses 22 to 27
John then goes on to tell us what was missing from this city. First of all, there was no temple. At least, there was no physical temple, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple, which means that their presence fills the city and God’s glory permeates everything.
Secondly, there’s no sun or moon. Why not? Because the city will be lit up by the glory of God and the Lamb. Now, remember this a a vision: so the point John is conveying is not whether or not there will be a sun and moon in the new heaven and the new earth; the point he’s conveying is that our future existence will be a glorious one, because God’s glory will shine brightly for all to see.
Thirdly, the gates will never be shut. So, the doors are always open so that no one who belongs in the city will ever be shut out; and people from every nation will come in to it.
Fourthly, there’s never any night. And so, you don’t have to worry about enemies sneaking it and attacking the city. The church triumphant is eternally secure.
Fifthly, nothing impure will ever enter the city, nor will anyone who does what is shameful and deceitful. The wicked will be kept out and prevented from destroying the glory and the beauty and the purity of the church triumphant. And the only ones who will be allowed into this Holy City are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, because they have been redeemed by the Lamb of God who gave up his life for them that they might have everlasting life in the presence of the Lord.
The end of chapter 20 was dark and foreboding, because it spoke of the judgment of the dead and the eternal punishment of all those whose names are not written in the Book of Life. But chapters 21 and 22 are filled with light, because they speak to us of the glory that awaits all who belong to Jesus Christ who is the Lamb of God who was slain for sinners.
The city John saw is a large city. That tells us that the number of the redeemed will be very large. They will be like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, too many to count. We worry that the church in our day is small and decreasing; and we get into a panic about it. But God has promised that in the end the number of the redeemed who make up the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, will be a multitude which cannot be counted. God has promised it and he will do it.
And the city John saw is a secure city. Right now, the church is weak and powerless and vulnerable. And it’s often persecuted and oppressed. But the time is coming when the church will be safe and secure, because all of the church’s enemies will be shut out and there will be no one to oppose the Lord and his people.
And the city John saw was a glorious city. Right now, the church is subject to corruption. False teachers come along with their false doctrines to confuse us and to mislead us. Others come along who tempt us to do evil and who lead us away from the right path. The church is spoiled because of scandals and we continually dishonour the Lord by our sins. But the day is coming when the church will be made perfect and it will become gloriously beautiful and it will reflect perfectly the glory of the Lord.
And the city John saw was filled with the presence of the Lord. Normally, we can meet in the presence of the Lord on Sundays to worship him. And for a brief time, the Lord’s people are in his presence. And it can be wonderful. Of course, because of the coronavirus crisis, we’re unable to meet like that. But even when we can meet together, it’s only for an hour or so. And then we have to leave and go home. But the time is coming when we’ll be able to come into God’s presence in the new heaven and the new earth and we’ll never have to leave, but we’ll enjoy the presence of the Lord continually and for ever.