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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Revelation 21



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. εἶδον. This might naturally be understood as in Revelation 8:2, Revelation 15:1 as an announcement of the contents of the vision whose stages were to be related hereafter. At Revelation 21:5 the Seer hears the promise of a new heaven and earth, the fulfilment of which is announced in Revelation 21:6. It is apparently in Revelation 21:10 that he actually begins to see what we are told in Revelation 21:1-2 that he saw. In the last two chapters of this wonderful Book all the mechanical difficulties of interpretation are at their height.

οὐρανὸν καινὸν καὶ γῆν καινήν. Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22; referred to, as here, in 2 Peter 3:13. It is idle to ask, what amount of change in the physical constitution of the universe is implied: the destruction of the earth, as a seat of life, and its renewal, would imply a complete change of the visible heavens. But a world “wherein dwelleth righteousness” would be a new world, even without any physical change at all.

ἡ θάλασσα οὐκ ἔστιν ἔτι. In the Coptic Zephaniah p. 129 flames break out and dry up the sea before the earth and the works therein are burned up. If the figure is to be taken literally (we hear of a river in the next chapter and a perennial stream implies an abundant reservoir of water somewhere), we might be tempted to think the absence of sea so to speak a defect in the landscape. To the ancients it seemed a pledge of security and unfettered intercourse; cf. Oceano dissociabili, Hor. Od. I. iii. 22. The same dislike to navigation is perhaps expressed Isaiah 33:21, where, it is said, Zion protected by God’s majesty is to be like a city defended by broad rivers and canals, so perhaps nothing is meant but the absence of hostile fleets; there may even be a reference to Sennacherib’s naval expedition against the Chaldees in 694 B.C. At any rate to the exile of Patmos the sea was the Great Divider.

Verse 2


This like Revelation 21:1 might still be part of a prefatory announcement of what is narrated in detail Revelation 21:9 sqq.

2. Ἱερουσαλὴμ καινήν. For the old Jerusalem, though we saw (Revelation 20:9, and note) that it is to be again “a holy city” in the last days as of old, will have passed away with “the first earth.”

καταβαίνουσανθεοῦ. This is the new Jerusalem of which the earthly city is an imperfect copy; see on Revelation 4:6, Revelation 6:9 for the heavenly Temple. While this world lasts, this true Jerusalem is above (Galatians 4:26); and we only know its nature from the earthly copy of it, before Christ came, and the spiritual approach to it (Hebrews 12:22) since. But in the days here described, it will be realised on earth in all its perfection.

ἡτοιμασμένην. The building and arrangements of the city serve the same purpose as the dress and ornaments of a bride. Cf. Isaiah 61:10.

ὡς νύμφην. See Revelation 19:7 and notes thereon. The metaphors of a woman and a city are combined as in 17, and in 4 Ezra 10:26-27, in 17 the city is a harlot, in Esdras a widow.

κεκοσμημένην. Isaiah 61:10.

Verse 3

3. ἡ σκηνὴ τοῦ θεοῦ, i.e. the Shechinah, the Divine Presence; see on Revelation 7:15. So in the next words.

σκηνώσει μετʼ αὐτῶν. Cf. St John 1:14 ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν.

λαοί. The word is a plural: “peoples,” though used in modern English, at least as a Gallicism, is scarcely (see however Revelation 10:11, Revelation 17:15) admitted in the English of the A. V[854] It would not do to translate “His nations,” for in Hellenistic language, representing O.T. usage, “the nations” means Gentiles, and “the people” Israel. Here therefore the use of this word in the pl. has a special significance: all nations shall be God’s people, in the sense that one nation only has been hitherto.

ἔσται μετʼ αὐτῶν. If we add αὐτῶν θεὸς with A and vg[855] it is simple to translate “and be their God” as in A. V[856] In spite of the order it is also possible to render “God Himself, their own God, shall be with them”—something like Psalms 67:6. There may be a reminiscence of the name Immanuel: there certainly is of Jeremiah 24:7 &c.; Ezekiel 11:20 &c.; Zechariah 8:8, whether on St John’s part or only on that of his copyists.

Verses 3-8


Verse 4

4. θάνατος οὐκ ἔσται ἔτι. There may be a reference to the destruction of Death in the Lake of Fire Revelation 20:14, though hardly to the quasi personification.

οὔτε πένθος. See Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 65:19.

Verse 5

5. εἶπεν ὁ καθήμενος. The first time that He speaks. The reference is rather to the eternal throne of Revelation 4:2 than to the judgement-throne of Revelation 20:11, so far as the two can be distinguished.

ἰδού, καινὰ ποιῶ πάντα. Some O.T. parallels are alleged, e.g. Isaiah 43:19; Jeremiah 31:22; but really the only close parallel is 2 Corinthians 5:17; and the meaning of this passage is, of course, even fuller than of that.

καὶ λέγει. It is doubtful whether the speaker is still “He that sat on the throne”; for a similar command to “write” has been given already (Revelation 14:13, Revelation 19:9; cf. Revelation 10:4), either by an impersonal “voice from heaven” or by the revealing angel. The question is best left open. The repetition of the words “He said unto me” in the next verse is a reason against ascribing all three speeches to “Him that sat on the throne”; the fresh mention of a revealing angel in Revelation 21:9 is perhaps a stronger one against supposing an angel to be speaking here; and the form of the words themselves is against their referring to an impersonal voice.

ὄτι. Is probably the reason for writing, possibly it only serves like quotation marks to introduce the following words which are to be written.

πιστοὶ καὶ ἀληθινοί, Revelation 3:14, Revelation 19:11 and still more exactly Revelation 22:6.

Verse 6

6. γέγοναν. But for the plural an exact repetition of Revelation 16:17. If we ask, what is the subject to this verb, “They have come into being,” perhaps the best answer is “all things.” The new universe of which the creating Word has just gone forth, has now been made, “and God sees that it is good.”

τὸ ἄλφα καὶ τὸ ὦ. As in Revelation 1:8 (not 11s) Revelation 22:13. Here as in the former passage it is God the Father that speaks.

τῆςζωῆς. See Revelation 7:17 and note, Revelation 22:1 : also our Lord’s words in St John’s Gospel, John 4:14, John 7:38. The last quoted passage is combined with this in the Epistle describing the Martyrs of Gaul (Eus. H. E. v.i.18). The writer (as pointed out in Camb. Texts and Studies 1, 2, p. 98) followed a punctuation which makes Christ (not the believer) the fount of living waters.

δωρεάν. Cf. Isaiah 55:1, ἄνευ ἀργυρίου καὶ τιμῆς.

Verse 7

7. ὁ νικῶν. Carries back our thoughts to the promises at the beginning of the book, Revelation 2:7, &c. There is perhaps some significance in the Father thus taking up and repeating the language of the Son.

ταῦτα. The new heavens and earth and the things in them, which, like them, have just “come into being.”

καὶ ἔσομαιυἱός The form of the promise resembles 2 Samuel 7:14, at least as closely as Jeremiah 24:7, &c.: and the sense combines that of both. The finally victorious share in the privileges, not only of God’s people, but of the Only-begotten: see Revelation 3:21.

Verse 8

8. τοῖς δέ δειλοῖς. “The cowards” would express the sense more accurately, at least in modern English, than “the fearful” of A. V[857] Those condemned are those who are afraid to do their duty, not those who do it, though timidly and in spite of the fears of nature: still less those who do it “with fear and trembling” in St Paul’s sense.

ἀπίστοις. It is, as usual, questionable whether “unbelieving” (A. V[858]) or “unfaithful” expresses the sense most accurately. He who believes God’s Word is “faithful” to God: the character here condemned is the exact opposite.

ἐβδελυγμένοις may mean “polluted with idols” or “abominations,” see note on Revelation 21:27; perhaps more probably alludes to crimes yet fouler than those named.

πόρνοις. The versions give this word a sense not attested in ordinary Greek, where when masculine it equals κύνες, Revelation 22:15. Cf. ἄλλαγμα κυνὸς, Deuteronomy 23:18.

φαρμακοῖς. In LXX. φαρμακός always means a dealer in witchcraft φάρμακον witchcraft (poison is always θυμὸς in LXX. except in Psalms 111:3 where, as in the New Testament parallels Romans 3:13, St James 3:8, it is ἰὸς), consequently A. V[859] is right in translating “sorcerers” here and “sorceries” Revelation 9:21 and “witchcraft” Galatians 5:20; venefici and veneficia in the Vg[860] are no argument to the contrary for the same persons dealt in both witchcraft and poison and the names apply to both. φαρμακός in ordinary Greek, with the possible exception of a passage in Hipponax, means vile persons such as were in early times pampered for a season at public expense and then sacrificed for the public good.

ψευδέσιν. It is uncertain whether this word was chosen deliberately as more general than ψεύσταις.

Revelation 21:9 to Revelation 22:5. THE VISION OF THE NEW JERUSALEM

Verse 9

9. καὶ ἦλθενφιάλας. Repeated verbatim from Revelation 17:1. The identical forms of introduction emphasize the contrast between Babylon and Jerusalem, the harlot and the bride.

τῶν γεμόντων. This well-attested and inexplicable reading must have arisen from an involuntary error of the writer or a very early copyist.

Verses 9-17


Verse 10

10. ἐν πνεύματι. Revelation 17:3, Revelation 1:10. Cf. Ezekiel 3:14.

ἐπὶ ὄρος μέγα καὶ ὑψηλόν. Ezekiel 40:2. The Seer is taken either to the Holy Mountain of the Lord or to a mountain from which he can see the whole of it. The preposition probably implies that he is set down on the mountain. In Ezek. l.c. the city apparently occupies the south side of the mountain, whence the seer views it.

καταβαίνουσανθεοῦ. Repeated verbatim from Revelation 21:2. If we suppose the Vision proper to begin at Revelation 21:1 the descent described is no doubt the same as there, but St John’s vision of the descent is not exactly the same. He has seen, as it were in the distance, the appearance of the city: but his attention was absorbed in listening to the sayings of Revelation 21:3-8. Now, he is summoned to attend to the vision, and finds it at the same stage where he noticed it in passing before.

Verse 11

11. ἔχουσαν τὴν δόξαν τοῦ θεοῦ. i.e. the visible cloud of glory (cf. Hebrews 9:5), the Shechinah of the Divine Presence, which the Second Temple in the earthly Jerusalem lacked. See Revelation 21:23.

ὁ φωστήρ. Elsewhere the word means “luminary”; perhaps here it stands for the light by which the city shines on the world rather than for the light which shines on the city.

ἰάσπιδι κρυσταλλίζοντι. See on Revelation 4:3 : it was rare for a “jasper” to combine brilliant colour and perfect translucency.

Verse 12

12. ἔχουσα. A nominative participle in this context might in itself be a Hebraism rather than an anacoluthon: and this may be the construction here, though Hebrew has no direct equivalent to ἔχω.

ὑψηλόν. Its exact height is stated in Revelation 21:17.

ἔχουσαἸσραήλ. So Ezekiel 48:31-34. Probably the order of the names on the gates would be the same as there; but the order can hardly be pressed as important, since it is quite different from that of the four-square encampment in the wilderness, Numbers 2. The 12 gates of heaven in Enoch xxxiii–xxxv. do not really present a very close parallel to these.

ἀγγέλους δώδεκα. As porters and sentinels to keep out intruders, not invaders, who never molest this City of Peace; the guards, like the walls and gates are for order rather than for defence.

Verse 13

13. ἀπὸ ἀνατολῆςἀπὸ δυσμῶν. The order of enumeration in Numbers is E.S.W.N., in Ezekiel N.E.S.W., in Enoch N.W.S.E., as in each of them the surveyor goes round methodically in order: here the Seer stands as it were on a new Mount of Olives with the east front of the city facing him, its northern and southern fronts to his right and left, while the western battlements bound the view.

Verse 14

14. There is a little difficulty in harmonising this verse with Revelation 21:19-20. Taking this verse by itself we should suppose the twelve foundations were twelve monoliths, far surpassing those used for the earthly temple (Mark 13:1 and parallels), each reaching from one gate to another, each bearing the name of a master-builder of Zion (cf. Nehemiah 3 passim). Taking Revelation 21:19-20 by themselves we should naturally suppose that the twelve foundations were the twelve courses of stone nearest the ground and the eye, and therefore of the most precious materials; and this is supported by Isaiah 54:11, where the courses of the walls of Zion are to be picked out with antimony. It is possible to combine the two (at the expense of the splendour of the picture in Revelation 21:19-20) by supposing that each monolith was a jewel.

ἔχων, though well attested is inexplicable if intentional; ἔχον would have the same construction as ἔχουσα in Revelation 21:12.

δώδεκα ὀνόματα. Expressing the same doctrine as St Paul in Ephesians 2:20, and (probably) our Lord in St Matthew 16:18. It is absurd to suppose that there is any pointed insistance on the Apostles being only twelve, St Paul being excluded: to introduce thirteen or fourteen would have spoilt the symmetry characteristic of the whole vision. We might just as well say, that there ought to be thirteen gates for the thirteen tribes; counting Ephraim, Manasseh and Levi all as coordinate with the rest. Really, it is idle to ask whether the twelfth name was that of St Paul or St Matthias. St John does not notice his own name being written there, though of course it was (cf. St Luke 10:20); the Apostles are here mentioned in their collective and official, not in their individual character. (See on Revelation 5:5.)

τοῦ ἀρνίου. His identity is taken for granted with the Jesus of the earthly ministry, as in Revelation 14:1 with the Son of God.

Verse 15

15. μέτρον, κὰλαμον χρυσοῦν. So Revelation 11:1. This is more closely parallel to Ezekiel 11:3; Ezekiel 11:5. See also Zechariah 2:1.

τοὺς πυλῶνας. As it happens we are not actually told of these measurements.

Verse 16

16. ἐμέτρησεν τὴν πόλιν. It is doubtful whether this is the measurement of the side of the square, or of the whole circumference. The twelve-fold measure is in favour of the latter view: thus from each gate to the next would be 1000 furlongs; the outmost gate on each side being 500 from the angle.

τῷ καλάμῳ. He has not, as in the parallel passages of Ezekiel and Zechariah, a line for the long measurements (like our “chains” and “poles”).

ἐπὶχιλιάδων. The construction is peculiar, but the sense clear. The measure would be about 1378 English miles, making the City 344 miles squares, according to the lower computation.

τὸ μῆκος καὶἴσα ἐστίν. It is always a question how far the symbols of this Book are to be turned into visible pictures. Some, like the two-edged sword, cf. Revelation 1:16, Revelation 19:15, would if so according to our notions be grotesque, so would a city forming a cube of over 300 miles each way. Oriental artists never shrink from representing what oriental writers describe. The cube was regarded as a perfect figure and the Holy of Holies conformed to it. Passages are quoted from the Rabbis and from St Justin, which seem to prove that this notion of Jerusalem being elevated to an enormous height did commend itself to Jewish habits of thought. On the other hand we are told that the wall of the city (if it is the height which is given) was of great but not of enormous or unimaginable dimensions. Possibly as the earthly city seems from some points to stand on a square of rock surrounded by ravines, it is meant that the heavenly city will realize the ideal to which the earthly tends and stand on the level summit of a cubical mountain. Possibly also it is built on the slopes of a pyramidal mountain: if so the height is measured by the reed along the side, the conceptions of vertical height would be too abstruse.

Verse 17

17. ἐμέτρησεν τὸ τεῖχος. We should naturally understand, the height of it. The walls of the historical Babylon are differently stated as having been 200, 300, or nearly 340 feet high. But we are told that they were about 80 feet in breadth (Hdt. I. clxxviii. 5: cf. Jeremiah 51:58): so if we do admit that the City here is conceived as 340 miles high, there is a sort of proportion in making its walls not less than 72 yards thick.

μέτρον ἀνθρώπου, ὅ ἐστιν ἀγγέλου. In Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah angels often appear and are named as men. If this Book followed the same usage we might suppose that angelic cubits are meant, thus enhancing the size. In Ezekiel it is explained that the reed is 6 royal cubits, each being a handbreadth beyond the ordinary cubit. Apart from such reminiscences the sense would be that angels use a cubit of the same length as men, viz. the average length of the forearm, from the elbow to the finger-tip. It might be implied that angels are not of superhuman stature.

Verse 18

18. ἡ ἐνδώμησις. A half technical word, as it were ‘the superstructure’ as distinct from the foundations.

ἴασπις. See on Revelation 4:3.

ἡ πόλις, i.e., the houses included within the wall.

ὑάλῳ καθαρῷ. See on κρυσταλλίζοντι, Revelation 21:11; the refulgence of untarnished metal has a certain resemblance to glass: it seems as if we can see into it as we can see through glass.

Verses 18-21


Verse 19

19. θεμέλιοικεκοσμημένοι. From the next sentence we are to understand that they are adorned by being constructed of these stones, not that stones are fastened on merely for ornament.

λίθῳ τιμίῳ. See Isaiah 54:11-12 where however there is less detail than here, and what there is is not quite the same: a warning against expecting too minute a symbolism in the details. It is true that contemporary superstition ascribed mystical meanings and magical virtues to the various stones, and it is possible that the revelation made to St John was given in terms of these beliefs, which he and his readers may have known of or even have held. But though not a priori incredible, this is hardly likely: these superstitions had, it seems, much less hold on the popular mind in St John’s day than some centuries later: and at all times they were too vague and too variable to give us a key to the interpretation. There may be a definite meaning in each of the stones named, but the general meaning of the whole is all that we can be sure of. As St Hildebert says,

Quis chalcedon, quis jacinthus,

Norunt illi qui sunt intus.

ὁ πρῶτος. See on Revelation 21:14. If the two descriptions are to be combined the enumeration probably begins at one of the angles, and goes round the wall in order. It is useless to guess which Apostle’s name was on which stone, but it may be presumed that St Peter’s would be on the first. But in no two of the canonical lists of the Apostles are their names given in the same order; and, so far as there is any order among them, they are arranged in three groups of four, not, as is here required, in four groups of three.

ἴασπις. Like the superstructure on the wall Revelation 21:18. But it can hardly be meant, that the Church is built more solidly on to St Peter than to any other of the twelve. If the twelve foundations are twelve courses it would be quite natural that the stone used for the superstructure should also be used for the lowest course.

σάπφειρος. Lapis-lazuli, the colour of which gives the modern name to the blue jacinth, see on Revelation 9:17.

χαλκηδών. A green stone like an emerald from the copper mines of Chalcedon. It is uncertain whether our Chalcedony gets the name from Pliny’s Chalcedonius Jaspis, or from his Carchedonius (a kind of carbuncle), which was often written by mistake with Cal-; for our chalcedony sometimes is like an inferior fire opal, and in Marbod we read

Pallensque Chalcedonius

Ignis habet effigiem.

Verse 20

20. χρυσόλιθοςτοπάζιον. According to the best authorities, the ancient application of these names was the reverse of the modern. Chrysolite ought, according to the etymology, to be a “golden stone,” while the modern chrysolite is green. As early as Epiphanius the oriental chrysolite or chrysoberyl had taken the name of chrysolite which passed from it to the softer peridot, the ancient topaz, and as the chrysoberyl was also a “topaz” this became a possible name for all yellow stones.

χρυσόπρασος. A variety of beryl, of a more yellowish green; probably one of the stones now called chrysolite, our chrysoprasus being then unknown.

ὑάκινθος. Our sapphire, see on Revelation 9:17.

ἀμέθυστος. This, the emerald, sardius, sardonyx and beryl are undoubtedly the stones now so called.

Verse 21

21. μαργαρῖται. Contrast Isaiah 54:12 where they are carbuncles (LXX. κρυστάλλου).

ἡ πλατεῖα. “Street” (A. V[861]) or “square”: see on Revelation 11:8. The City has one great space in the midst of it, like an Agora or Forum: but the word Agora would have associations, commercial or political, that would be incongruous with the repose of this city. And the associations of ‘street’ are no less misleading, the typical eastern city had one gate par excellence, and one street which led from the void space at the entering in of the gate to the court of the king’s palace; hence it is unnecessary to conjecture that if the city was built on a pyramidal mountain a single street might go round to its twelve gates, and then ascend the mountain like the ramp of the Assyrian temples. It is probably the pavement of the street which, like the walls of the houses, is of transparent gold.

Verse 22

22. καὶ ναὸν οὐκ εἶδον. The new Jerusalem is on earth, though on the new earth: this does not therefore prove that the heavenly temple of Revelation 11:19 &c. has ceased to exist. But He Who dwells from all eternity in that Temple will dwell to all eternity in the new Jerusalem; and will dwell there so manifestly, that there will be no need of an earthly figure of that Temple to symbolise His presence, or aid men to realise it.

παντοκράτωρ. See on Revelation 1:8, Revelation 4:8.

καὶ τὸ ἀρνίον. The position of these words does not make the coupling of the Lamb with the Eternal less significant, see on Revelation 20:6.

Verses 22-27


Verse 23

23. οὐ χρείαν ἔχει.… Isaiah 9:19. It is impossible to say whether it is here meant that the sun and moon do not shine, or only that the city is not dependent on them.

ὁ λύχνος. The word is that commonly rendered “candle” or “lamp.” This makes it unlikely that the analogy is meant to be suggested, that the Lord God is the Sun of the city, and the Lamb the Moon.

Verse 24

24. τὰ ἔθνη. Notice that the new Jerusalem is not the only inhabited part of the new earth, but only its centre and capital, as the earthly Jerusalem was in chap. 20. It follows from Revelation 20:15, that all the dwellers in the new earth are those who were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life; but it does not appear who among them have the further privilege of citizenship in the Holy City. That there is such a further privilege, above the lot of all the Elect, has been already suggested by Revelation 7:4; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 14:1-5.

St Irenæus, who understood like St Justin that the new Jerusalem would be the seat of the millennial reign, quotes the presbyters who had seen John for the remarkable theory that the holy city will be the lowest stage of eternal glory: those who bear fruit thirtyfold will tarry there, those who bear sixtyfold will be in Paradise, those who bear a hundredfold in heaven.

οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς. Apparently, civic government is still needed, or at any rate still exists, among “the nations” of the regenerate earth. But probably this is only a part of the imagery: Jerusalem is conceived (as in Isaiah 45:14; Isaiah 49:23; Isaiah 60:10-11) as an imperial city receiving the tribute of the world, simply because that was the form of world-wide sovereignty recognised and understood in the prophets’ times.

Verse 25

25. καὶ οἱ πυλῶνες. Isaiah 60:11. But the latter prophet speaks of a further glory than the earlier: Isaiah recognises the succession of day and night, while St John sees that in that perpetual day the gates cannot need to be closed. In an earthly city they are not closed by day except in time of war; but even in perfect peace they are closed every night (cf. Nehemiah 13:19); here the daylight is as perpetual as the peace.

Verse 26

26. 1 omits.

Verse 27

27. πᾶν κοινὸν καὶ ὁ ποιῶν. Isaiah 52:1. No unclean thing can enter without an unclean person. The point of view seems to change abruptly between Revelation 21:26 and Revelation 21:27. We should naturally suppose that as the city is always receiving the fulness of the Gentiles so it is always fenced against the evil that is in the World, cf. Revelation 22:15, but the mention of the Book of Life may be meant for a reminder that after the Judgement there is no evil to enter.

βδέλυγμα καὶ ψεῦδος. Both these words are used of idols by LXX., the latter to translate the Hebrew word which A. V[862] renders “vanity.”

ἐν τῷτοῦ ἀρνίου. So Revelation 13:8.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Revelation 21:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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