Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 21
- 1 A New Heaven and Earth
- 2 The New Jerusalem
- 3 The City’s Walls, Gates, and Foundations
- 4 The City’s Inhabitants
- 5 References
A New Heaven and Earth
- 1I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away, and there was no more sea. 2I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Commentary: The Last Judgement has marked the end of history as we have previously known it. The drama of this earth has reached its conclusion and the curtain is lowered on the stage of human history. Isaiah also speaks of a new heaven and earth: "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former will not be remembered nor come to mind."[Isa 65:17]
Here John describes the New Jerusalem as a bride who is a gift from God. This imagery fits with other early Jewish apocalyptic work. One particular idea that may be in mind is the belief that the new city already existed and would soon be made visible. In fitting this to his audience, John may be suggesting that the New Jerusalem is currently in heaven as the dwelling place of the martyrs and will descend to earth. The details are not the important part. The message is that the new city and the fellowship of the believers will be beautiful. God will finally finish the work he began at the start of creation.
In verse 1 it states that there is no more sea. We as a people have for the most part a love for the sea and its beaches. In biblical times, the sea was seen as being rough and unstable, so taking this away is symbolic for removing that unstableness from the earth. People who went out to sea on boats were sometimes never heard from again. For one to truly understand why the sea may be seen as a bad thing one must look at this from the eyes of a person living in biblical times.
- 3I heard a loud voice out of heaven, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them, and be their God.
Commentary: This is an exciting verse for numerous reasons. It will be the first time humanity will see God and be in his presence. The believers will all be "his people" with no more references to race or diversity. There will be no more deaths, for all the people will be part of God's eternal life. Some translations use the word peoples instead of just people, which implies that there should be no racial or cultural division between the people of God. This shows early Christianity's nature; while Judaism was essentially a closed-off religion to outsiders, Christianity went out to the gentiles as well. Another well known instance of this occurring in the bible is the event of Pentecost.
This verse foreshadows Revelation 21:22 which says that there is no temple in the New Jerusalem. Instead "the tabernacle of God is with men." Verse 3 depicts God dwelling among men as a set up for the revelation that no temple will be required in the New Jerusalem. The temple's importance was based on it being the dwelling place of God on earth. In the New Jerusalem God dwells not in the temple, but throughout the city. The verse is also a reference to Leviticus 26.11 and Exzekiel 37.27, which indicates that this passage would have special meaning for Jewish Christians.
- 4God will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor will there be any more pain, for the former things have passed away.
Commentary: After the period of judgment, God will make a new Heaven and earth that is pure and free from evil and mourning, there will no longer be suffering or a reason for tears. Just as our mothers have wiped away our tears in our earthly life, God will wipe away our tears in the heavenly life. The pain and suffering has passed and the people can now move forward into bliss. This heaven will now be a place of happiness and love rather than the turmoil previously experienced. The curse placed upon the world for the original sins will be removed.
- 5He who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And he said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
Commentary: God is making a new world. But this time, Satan is not around to tempt and corrupt the people. The people who populate this new world are the people that have chosen God over evil. Thus, they deserve the utter bliss of this new earth. The people will not remember the pain and suffering that was endured to get to this place and they will inhabit newly created transformation that is free from all previous evil.
This is a very important passage because it is one of the few times God is mentioned directly in the book of Revelation. And his instructions to write are informing John to write the whole book, not just this passage.
- 6And he said to me, “It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give from the fountain of the water of life freely to the one who thirsts.”
Commentary: The phrase it is done is similar to Jesus Christ’s last words on the cross. However, this time the reader does not know what is finished. Perhaps it is what is finished is God’s new creation. The Alpha and Omega, beginning and end it has been previously mentioned, and is a very important phrase in the Christian faith. This phrase is showing absolute sovereignty and power, and saying the same thing twice brings attention to its importance. This water of life is also mentioned in the Gospels, and it is a symbol of eternal life (free of cost as water is most often free of cost). Unlike Chapter 20, this passage as well as the rest of this Chapter is very comforting and gives great hope to followers of Christ.
- 7"The one who overcomes will inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he will be my child."
Commentary: He who overcomes is promised “all things” it is a promise to those who are strong in faith and hope. This title is for the people of God. Note that it does not directly call God the Father, even through he takes on a father like role. The idea of a personal relashionship is established in this verse between God and God's people. This goes back to Genesis 17:7 KJV where God made a covenant with Abraham: "7And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee."
- 8“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, whoremongers, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars will have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Commentary: Scholars have questioned why John would include this list of censured activities. It is imperative to remember that John's target audience is Christians under pressure and threat of persecution. Therefore, it was important to remind the recipients of this work that these types of activities were not to be tolerated. As Ben Witherington III notes, "The intended rhetorical effect of this verse was not to castigate the lost or gloat over their demise, but rather to warn the faithful of the dangers of spiritual or moral apostasy."
This verse actually concludes the chronological narrative of the Book of Revelation. The next verse commences John's tour of the New Jerusalem. The remainder of the book is essentially the rhetoric of praise, encomiums, and blame.
The New Jerusalem
- 9There came to me one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and he talked with me, saying, “Come here. I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife.”
Commentary: The reader is given the identity of John's "tour guide" of the New Jerusalem (one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues). This is the same angel who showed him the "harlot city of Babylon" in Revelation 17, a contrast city to the New Jerusalem. Given that the people of God are earlier represented as a bride[19:7-8], there may be a connection with the new Jerusalem, which is "prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."[Rev 21:2] Some interpreters suggest that the new Jerusalem is actually a symbol of the people of God themselves, rather than a location, as such.
- 10He carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11having the glory of God. Her light was like a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.
John is transported in the spirit to a mountain in order to gain a deeper understanding of the bride and the Holy city. This is a contrast to chapter 17 where John is also carried away in the spirit and brought to a desert, in order to see the woman riding the beast. This great and high mountain may be an allusion to Mt. Zion (often referenced throughout the Scripture). The precious jasper stone is also referenced in Revelation 4:3: "And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance." Initially, the jasper was a descriptor of the illuminious beauty of God radiating from His throne. The holy city, Jerusalem also shines like a jasper stone may be represented as the Church, "clear as crystal" or free from blemish. God's glory shines over this city and therefore the comparison to such a precious stone is made once again.
The City’s Walls, Gates, and Foundations
- 12She had a great and high wall, and twelve gates with twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: 13three gates on the east; three gates on the north; three gates on the south; and three gates on the west. 14The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Commentary: The gates (tribes of Israel) and foundations (apostles) are often interpreted as symbolizing Israel (the people, not the land) and the Church.
Each gate allows one tribe to enter, thus, each tribe has access to the city. There is also a reference to Ezekiel because he prophesied that King David would be one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
- 15He that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. 16The city lies foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth, and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. 17He measured its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.
Commentary: If these are comparable to earthly measurements, the city will cover an area about half the size of the contiguous United States. Oddly enough, the height is the same as the length and breadth, which implies a shape like a cube or a pyramid.
- 18The wall was built of jasper, and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; 20the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; and the twelfth, amethyst. 21The twelve gates were twelve pearls; each gate was of one pearl. The street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
Commentary: This verse is basically explaining that the city's brilliance is like that of jasper and other precious stones. In Revelation 4.3, God's own presence is described as thus when describing his appearance on the throne. John is stating that the city is like God and equally beautiful and precious. This is also a direct contrast to Rome which was called the eternal city stating that only God can hand down a truly eternal city and that God needs to be at the center of any city for it to be truly brilliant. The twelve gates are a comparison to the twelve tribes of Israel suggesting a continuity of the twelve tribes of old and the new people of God.
In Ezek. 28.13 precious stones are symbolic of God's own delling in Paradise. The list of stones is also taken from Ezek. 28.16 including nine stones that appear in both lists although no one stone list is exactly the same as John's. This could also be symbolic that the city has unlimited resources.
The City’s Inhabitants
- 22I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
Commentary: The lack of a temple is the main difference between New Jerusalem and any other city in John's time. In the Old Testament, the temple was one of the most important establishments for the Israelites. The Glory of God was said to reside in the temple. Witherington suggests that the lack of temple shows a total blending of sacred and secular. Also, this image of a city without a temple stands in contrast to Old Testament expectations. Witherington supposes that the city without a temple shows a deep intimacy between God and his people, so that they can themselves come within the presence of God without intermediaries such as priests or sacrifices or incense. No longer are sacrifices needed, there is no longer a barrier between God and his people.
There are implications in this verse of the role of Christ in heaven; that the lamb and God are mentioned together shows a kind of equality in power and importance.
- 23The city had no need of the sun, nor of the moon, to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it, and the Lamb is its light.
Commentary: This verse could be symbolizing that there is no need to see because God will guide his believers as long as the follow his "light".
- 24The nations of those who are saved will walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honour into it.
Commentary: Witherington guesses that these kings are folks who realized the extent of Satan's deceit (after he's tosses into the lake of fire). If he is right this verse may demonstrate some kind of reconciliation, considering that the last time we heard about the kings of earth was when they were Satan's vassals.
- 25Its gates will not be shut at all by day, and there will be no night there.
- 26They will bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. 27By no means will anything enter it that defiles, or whatever works abomination or makes a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
- Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge University Press, 2003.