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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Revelation 21



Other Authors
Verses 1-27

FROM THESE DREADFUL scenes John lifts his eyes to behold scenes of everlasting felicity in a new heaven and a new earth. In our present earth the sea is the great dividing element, and into its salt water flow the impurities created by man in his sinful state, and they are rendered harmless. It will not be needed in that blissful day when the impurities and the divisions are no more. The first eight verses of chapter 21 give us, then, the eternal state, which will succeed the millennial age, and abide.

Its chief feature will be God dwelling with men in His tabernacle, which is identified with the holy city the new Jerusalem, which city is likened to “a bride prepared for her husband.” This might seem a strange mixture of symbols did we not remember that we have already, in Revelation 17:1-18 and Revelation 18:1-24, seen that which falsely claims to be the church represented as great Babylon and as a seducing woman—a harlot. In this new Jerusalem we have in symbol the church of God, which is the bride of Christ. It descends “from God,” since it is altogether His workmanship, and it comes “out of heaven,” for its calling was from heaven, and to heaven it had gone at the coming of the Lord Jesus for all His saints.

In that eternal order of things the prominent thoughts are GOD and MEN. The Persons of the Godhead are not thrown into prominence, though of course they are there, just as They were enfolded in the Elohim, translated God, in Genesis 1:1. Distinctions amongst men, such as nations, only came in as the result of sin, so here they disappear. It was ever in the purpose of God to dwell with men; an indication of this being found in Proverbs 8:31. When man was created in innocence the Divine approach did not go further than a visitation, “in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8). When in type Israel was redeemed from Egypt, God took up His abode on the tabernacle in their midst. Now by the Spirit the church is His habitation. In the eternal state His desire to dwell will be finally accomplished; and it will-be in fullest measure—the dwelling of “God Himself.”

The holy city is called “the tabernacle of God,” thus directing our thoughts to the earliest type of God dwelling amongst His people. Two words in the New Testament are translated “temple.” One signifies the whole of the sacred buildings and the other the inner sanctuary only. The first word is never used in the Revelation; always the second. So in chapter Revelation 15:5, we get, “the temple of the tabernacle;” that is, the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle. Again later in our chapter we read that there is no inner sanctuary in the heavenly city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the inner sanctuary of it. This may help us to understand why tabernacle rather than temple is the suitable word in the verse we are considering, though in Paul’s epistles the church is called the temple (inner sanctuary) of God.

All God’s redeeming activities have been in view of His dwelling, and then, having taken up His abode, He exerts His power in blessing. Very little is said, however, as to the positive side of this. It seems to be summed up in two facts. First, that men will dwell in the presence of God. Second, that they will be in relationship with Him as sons, and thus as overcomers inherit all things. But how much is involved in these simple facts! To know God and dwell before Him in a near relationship must exceed in its blessedness even the inheriting of all things.

Verse Revelation 21:4 gives us the blessing on its negative side, and this we can understand more easily. The things that will never enter those blissful scenes are all painfully familiar to us at present. We know them only too well! We may remark that the “crying” is not the same as the “tears.” It means “outcry,” and the world is full of that today. Cries of dissatisfaction, resentment and threatening fill the air. All the five things mentioned are the fruits of sin. As men multiply on the face of the earth the volume of them increases. The advent of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom will largely assuage them, but they will never be wholly and for ever abolished until the eternal state is reached. And then, God himself will do it. His hand it will be—sweet thought!—that wipes the tear from every eye.

In the eternal state everything will be new in the fullest sense of the word. The material heavens and earth will be new, and “all things” found therein will be new according to verse Revelation 21:5. All those things that we know at present, spoken of as “the former things” will have passed away. He who acts, to produce these new creation things, is “He that sat upon the throne,”—our Lord Jesus Christ. He acted to bring into existence the old creation, according to Genesis 1:1-31. He acts again to bring into existence the new. As before, so here, the word of His power is sufficient. Formerly “He spake, and it was done” (Psalms 33:9). Now again He speaks and His words are, “It is done.” Both are accomplished with equal ease.

But we must never forget what lay between these two points. Redemption had to be accomplished, and far more than His word was needed for that. Apart from redemption and its wonderful fruits the new creation scenes and blessings would lack a solid foundation.

He who sits upon the throne asserts the fulness of His Deity, for no one but God can be the A and the Z—as we should speak—the beginning and end of all things. In this light He presented Himself to John, speaking as One who dwells in the eternal present, above and beyond all questions of time. But at the end of the verse He again speaks in view of time conditions, for thirst is not something that characterizes the eternal state. Thirst is a symbol of unsatisfied desire, and that eminently marks the present time. For the thirsty there is still the water of life, which springs up like a fountain and is freely given. Such is the grace of our God, persisting to the end.

From the grace of verse Revelation 21:6 we pass to the overcoming of verse Revelation 21:7. At first sight it looks like a complete change, but after all, no one does overcome save those who have received the grace. This is the last mention of overcoming, or victory, in the book, which, as we before remarked, is the book of victory. The victorious saint will enter into full possession of the inheritance, but no saint at all would overcome had not the Lamb prevailed (same word), as we see in chapter 5.

The terrible import of verse Revelation 21:8 is apparent. It stands in contrast to the victors in verse Revelation 21:7, and in both verses we are carried outside the bounds of time and into the endless expanse of eternity. There is that confined region, burning with the holy judgment of God, which will be the second death to those that are cast there. The first death is not annihilation. If it were, there could be no second. It is dissolution of soul and body. The second death will be the complete and absolute dissolution of every link that connects with God; complete severance from all that is summed up in the words, life and light and love. There will be existence but not life in the full and proper sense of the word.

The list of those on whom this doom falls is sadly instructive. It begins with the fearful and unbelieving. Being without faith, they feared man and did not confess Jesus as their Lord. Those who bore the character of the devil, who is a murderer, and were marked by lust and traffic with the powers of darkness, come next. The list finishes with “all liars,” for lying is another characteristic of the devil, and deceit takes a variety of subtle forms. The overcomers of verse Revelation 21:7 are sons of God. The damned of verse Revelation 21:8 proclaim themselves as sons of the evil one. They share his doom.

Beyond the point we have reached. the Scripture does not carry us. An eternal state is something which lies beyond the compass of our minds. God then will be all in all, but no description of it in detail is given. Were it given it would be unintelligible to us in our present state. We may gather this from what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:4. We may find however deep instruction in what we are told.

John is now granted a fresh vision, the description of which begins in verse Revelation 21:9. Two remarks of a general nature may be made as to it. First, it stands in very definite contrast with the vision he was given of Babylon, the great whore, in Revelation 17:1-18 and Revelation 18:1-24. In both cases the vision is introduced by one of the angels who had the seven vials, but to see

Babylon John was carried in spirit into the wilderness, while to see the holy Jerusalem he is carried into a great and high mountain. A wilderness is a region where is specially seen the curse that rests upon creation because of man’s sin, according to Genesis 3:18. In ascending a high mountain a man travels as far as his feet can carry him towards heaven, and away from the mists and defilements of earth.

Second, in this vision John sees the holy city, the bride, the Lamb’s wife, not as it will be in the eternal state, as in verses Revelation 21:2-3 of our chapter, but as it will be in connection with the millennial scene. The fact that we read of the twelve tribes of Israel, the nations who are to be healed and saved, and the kings of the earth, make this manifest. So when John sees the city descending out of heaven from God, in verse Revelation 21:10, he is viewing it coming down to take up its connection with the millennial earth at the beginning of that epoch. When he saw it coming down, in verse Revelation 21:2, it was at the beginning of the eternal state, the millennium being over. The recognition of this fact enhances the value of the words in verse Revelation 21:2, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” A thousand years have rolled, yet her bridal beauty for the heart of Christ is untarnished and as fresh as ever.

As with Babylon so here we have brought together the two symbols of a woman and a city. They appear, on the surface, to be quite incongruous, but not so when we come to their significance. The one sets forth what the church will be to Christ; the other what it will be for Him: as the bride, the object of His love; as the city, the centre from which His powerful administration will proceed.

The adjective, “great,” in verse Revelation 21:10 lacks authority and should be omitted. The harlot city, Babylon, was characterized by greatness, the bridal city, New Jerusalem, is characterized by being from God, and hence it is holy and heavenly and has the glory of God—not the glory of man. This being so, it descends over the earth as a luminary, and “her light” is likened to “a jasper stone clear as crystal.” Jasper indeed is mentioned three times in the description of the city, and the only other occurrence of the word in the book is in the description of the One who sits on the throne in Revelation 4:3. That which is descriptive of God is descriptive of the city.

Verses Revelation 21:12-21 are occupied with the wall, the gates, the foundations, and the city itself. We may consider them in that order. The wall is described as great and high. No adverse power could force an entrance. Evil is totally excluded. Its measure was 144 cubits, the square of 12, which is the number of administration. Here at last then is administration in such perfection as to shut out all that is wrong.

The wall, however, was not absolutely continuous: there were twelve gates, three on each of its four sides. Now gates are made in order that there may be going out and coming in, so that the city, though amply protected by its wall, is not a self-contained and isolated unit. There is to be happy intercourse between it and the millennial earth. He who approaches it finds an angel at each gate, so that all come under inspection. Moreover each gate is a pearl; a reminder this, we should say, to all who approach, that the city itself as “the bride” represents that “pearl of great price” for which the Saviour “sold all that He had.” Those who go out find on the gates the names of the tribes of Israel, as indicating the route by which one travels to the happy earth beneath. All the administration of that day will proceed from the throne in the heavenly metropolis, and reach the earth by way of Israel.

Here too is a city which has foundations, and God is the Builder and Maker of it. Twelve again appears, as the number of the foundations, and on each the name of one of the apostles of the Lamb. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, according to Ephesians 2:20, so this confirms us in thinking that in symbolic way the city sets forth the church. Again the foundations are garnished with precious stones, a stone to each foundation. The first has jasper, which, as we have just seen, is peculiarly descriptive of God Himself. That which speaks of God lies at the very foundation of everything here, but each stone in one way or another acts as a prism, reflecting the various hues that go to make up light. The very foundations of the city sparkle with the light of God, but so reflected that men may appreciate its colourful details.

The city itself as well as its gates and wall is measured by the angel, using a golden reed. Thus the measuring standard was divine, and it was found to be a perfect cube of immense dimensions. A furlong (or stadium, as the word is) was about 200 yards, so 12,000 would equal about 1,375 miles. The fact that its height was this as well is its length and breadth, helps to confirm the thought that we are dealing not with literal language but symbolic. In this measurement we again meet with twelve, the number of administration, and the very street of the city is gold like transparent glass. In earth’s cities the street is the place where dirt accumulates. There all is divine purity and transparency, and as is the city so is the government that proceeds from it.

Verses Revelation 21:22-23 unfold to us that wherein the glory of the city consists. The earthly Jerusalem of the millennial age will have the Temple of Jehovah as its crowning glory. Ezekiel sees this in vision, and records it and the measurements of it in Ezekiel 40:1-49—48. The glory of the heavenly Jerusalem is that it has no temple for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple of it, that is, there They shine in Their glory without the necessity of a covering or screen. In “Lord God Almighty” we have reference to the three names under which God was revealed in Old Testament times, and with Him is coupled on equal terms the once humbled Lamb, depreciated and set at nought by men. There is no mention of God as Father here, but that is, we judge, because the emphasis is not on the relationship, in which the church is set, but on the administration, which is committed to it.

Amongst men administration is so often a failure by reason of unrighteousness or ignorance. Here all is marked by the perfect light of God. The glory of God illuminates the city, and the “light,” or more accurately “lamp” of it is the Lamb. In Him the light will be concentrated and made available for the city. All natural light is superseded and no longer needed there. Verse Revelation 21:24 shows that though the light has its seat in the city it is diffused upon earth so that the saved nations enjoy it. All their activities will be governed by it, and thus we see how at last heaven and earth shall be brought into sweet accord, as was hinted in Hosea 2:21, Hosea 2:22.

But just as the light of God streams out of the heavenly city so into it shall flow the glory and honour of the kings of the earth and of the nations. In Revelation 17:2, we saw the kings of the earth trafficking with the false Babylon before the advent of Christ. They have now departed to their doom, as also the nations who forgot God. The kings and nations of our chapter are those who have passed into millennial blessedness in happy subjection to the Lord. Heavenly light shines forth upon them and glory and honour streams back into the city from them on earth. Here is a scene portrayed which may well enrapture every heart; only to be exceeded by the joys of the city itself.

This delightful intercourse is uninterrupted as far as the city is concerned. Its gates are never shut, for within it is continuous day. If we compare this with Isaiah 60:11, we find an instructive contrast. In that glad day the gates of the earthly Jerusalem will be open continually. There will be night there for it says, “they shall not be shut day nor night.” Into that city, the “forces” or “wealth” of the Gentiles, and their kings, will be brought. Thus on earth things will be on a lower footing, though there is some similarity with the heavenly city, which will be more clearly seen if all the latter part of that chapter be read.

From the heavenly city every form of evil and defilement and untruth will be wholly excluded, and only those written in the Lamb’s book of life will enter it. This could hardly be said of the earthly Jerusalem, even in the millennial age.


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 21:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

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