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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 21

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-27

The New Heaven and New Earth

Revelation 20:11 has indicated that at the time of the Great White Throne the earth and the heaven flee away. Now John sees a new heaven and a new earth, and the earth had no more sea. The earth is transformed. It is not a different earth, but a renewed earth, just as a sinner being renewed becomes a new creation in Christ. The sea is typical both of the nations in constant tumult (Revelation 17:15) and of the flesh in its swelling unrest and vanity (Isaiah 57:20). Wonderful to know that all this will be gone in the eternal state! Verses 1-5 briefly refer to this eternal state of heaven and earth. This will be the eternity of God's rest after ages of His laboring with mankind.

The holy city, new Jerusalem, comes down from God out of heaven (v. 2). It is not said to come to earth, but will evidently be in sight of earth and in close connection. Its description given later (v. 9 to Revelation 22:5) shows it to be a cube of 12,000 furlongs (over 1400 miles) and therefore not a city designed for earth at all, but symbolical or pictorial in its appearance and dimensions, though at the same time picturing a reality. In verse 9 the city is called "

the bride, the Lamb's wife" when it is seen and considered in connection with the millennial kingdom which of course precedes verse 2 in point of time. This city, the bride, is the Church of God comprised of all believers of the present dispensation of grace, seen then in connection with the millennial reign of Christ. As the wife she assists in administrative matters. She is not said to administer in eternity, but then to be "as a bride adorned for her husband" (v. 2), for in eternity the emphasis is on the personal joy and newness of this beautiful relationship of Christ and His Church. This fresh bridal affection does not wear off after the 1000 years, but is new for eternity. Though this holy city is named for the bride, the Church, it is also a place of holy fellowship in contrast to the world's unholy cities. Old Testament saints also will have their place there, for Abraham looked for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10).

The city is the last great symbol used in connection with the Church in Scripture. The Church is seen as one pearl of great price (Matthew 13:46), as one flock (John 10:16), one body (1 Corinthians 12:13), the epistle of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:3), the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15) or the household of God (Ephesians 2:19), the espoused wife or bride (2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:25-29) and lastly as the city. Each of these aspects emphasizes some special feature or features of the Church. The city speaks of perfect order in a great sphere in contrast to the disorder of the world's cities. It involves fellowship of tremendous dimensions in contrast to the limited fellowship that is implied in the present household character of the Church. We know that Old Testament saints will have their place in the city as seen by Hebrews 11:8-10, but the city is named for the bride, the Church, because in her the grace of God is most strikingly shown as being the first result of the value of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. In fact, the city (Jerusalem which is from above) is called "our mother" (Galatians 4:26), for it symbolizes the covenant of God's grace (in contrast to law) as the principle by which the Church has been eternally blessed. Therefore, though the city will be named for the bride, yet many others (all whose names are written in the book of life) will enter into it (Revelation 21:27). They will be partakers of its marvellous grace.

A great voice announces that the tabernacle of God is with men and that He will dwell with them (v. 3). Why is it the tabernacle of God and not the temple? The temple emphasizes the magnificence of the display of glory (which will be seen in the Millennium), which subdues mankind with awe and wonder, but the tabernacle emphasizes God's tender grace in desiring to dwell among His people even though they have not deserved it. However, while the tabernacle in the wilderness was temporary, this is eternal. The abiding sweetness of the presence of God is surely more wonderful than the greatest outward display. In this His love and goodness will be deeply enjoyed forever. God will be simply dwelling with man-kind, they being His people and He their God. By that time Christ will have delivered up the kingdom to God the Father; Christ as Man being subject to God so that God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). The calmness of perfect rest, perfect well-being, perfect accord is beautifully depicted in this third verse which so briefly notes the positive side of the eternal state. Some have wondered why so little is written of the positive blessings of eternity. The answer is surely that the marvels of what God has to show us are so great that we cannot in our present state form any proper conception of them. The apostle Paul was caught up to heaven and made no attempt to describe it (2 Corinthians 12:1-4).

On the negative side, we will be most thankful for what is not there. There will be no more tears, no death, no sorrow, no crying out in protest and no pain. The former things (everything connected with a fallen creation) will have passed away (v. 4).

Though so very little is said about eternity and what it will be like, the Christian gladly bows to this, for having the knowledge of all the glory of God being manifested in His Son, we know that we shall be eternally more than satisfied. God is still on the throne, and He declares, "Behold, I make all things new" (v. 5). This newness is perpetual: eternity always will be as fresh and new as though we had just entered into it. This wonder will never fade. In our present physical and mental condition we could not form any right perception of it, no matter how it was described to us. It has been observed that, while Satan could show to the Lord Jesus all he possessed (by usurpation) in a moment of time (Luke 4:5), eternity will not exhaust all that our great God has to show us. John is told to specifically write about all things being new. What is told him is true and faithful. We need this assurance because of our natural unbelieving tendencies.

The "I Am," The Overcomer and The Unbelieving

A short section (verses 6 to 8) is inserted by the Spirit of God to show how the heart of the Lord Jesus desires that all mankind should enter into this eternal blessing, yet solemnly affirming the contrary for every unbeliever. His words, "It is done" are final and positive: nothing can hinder the accomplishment of God's counsels. He again declares Himself as Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, He who is from eternity to eternity the living God. He promises "the fountain of the water of life freely" to one who thirsts. This is the thirst of realizing one's own emptiness as a sinner in need and thus turning to the one source of this living water, Jesus Christ who gives freely from a heart of perfect grace.

The overcomer will inherit all things (v. 7), for he becomes by faith a joint heir with Christ, into whose hands the Father has entrusted everything (Romans 8:17, John 3:35). The Lord Jesus adds here, "I will be his God and he shall be My son" (v. 7). This is the only time in John's inspired writings that the believer is said to be a son ("huios") of God. "Son" indicates a position of dignity, liberty and trust. John's usual description of believers is "children," but this one exception is appropriate since eternity is contemplated, for the dignity of having part with God in eternal glory is emphasized rather than simply filial relationship.

The dreadful contrast to all this is seen in verse 8. Who can estimate the awful horror of the end of those who choose to reject the faithful, gracious Lord of glory? Solemnly, "the cowardly" are mentioned first-those whose fear of human disapproval causes them to refuse the Son of God! "The unbelieving" are those who refuse God's testimony, the only means by which they could be preserved from the company of "the abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars." Every unbeliever chooses such company, and he or she will have part with them in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. This is the second death, not annihilation, but separation (the basic meaning of death)-separation from God in eternal torment. If the symbol of fire is dreadful, what must the reality be?

The Holy City in Millennial Splendour

The first eight verses of this chapter [21], in completing a series of events described in Revelation 19:1-21 and Revelation 20:1-15, have carried us to the introduction of the eternal state. In verse 9 we are taken back in time for a detailed description of the glory of the bride, the Lamb's wife, the holy Jerusalem, as she will be in the thousand years' reign of the Lord Jesus, previous to the Great White Throne judgment. The wisdom of God has ordered it this way, for how much better it is to have this glory described to us as we near the end of Revelation, rather than to have it told us before reading of the Great White Throne. Thus the Great White Throne judgment does not cast a shadow over the splendor of God's glory revealed in the city.

One of the seven angels who had the seven vials is appointed to show this great vision to John. These angels and vials are connected with the subduing of the earth in preparing for Christ's reign, and the city is seen here as the center of God's administration as Christ and His wife reign over the earth.

John is carried in the Spirit to a great and high mountain to see a heavenly city, the true Church, which is in contrast to Revelation 17:3 where he was carried to the wilderness to see the woman Babylon, the false church, seated on a scarlet colored Beast. The true wife is now exalted high above her earthly wilderness history. She had suffered with Christ; now she reigns with Him. She is pictured here as "the great city" (v. 10), no longer with a small, confined fellowship as on earth, and also as "the holy Jerusalem" in contrast to the unholy history of the earthly Jerusalem. Cities generally are notorious for harboring every kind of evil and intrigue, but here we see a perfect city and perfect administration. Here again (as in verse 2) she is seen descending out of heaven from God. In the Millennium as well as in the eternal state, she will be in close proximity to the earth; not on earth, but in the place of ruling over it.

She is invested with the glory of God (v. 11)-clothed in a beauty greater than her own. Her light is not intrinsic as is that of her Lord, but is reflected, just as a crystal-clear jasper stone (possibly a diamond) reflects light that shines on it (v.11). Everything is distinct: there is no shadow of deceit, no hint of darkness.

Its great and high wall (v. 12), speaks of its being fully protected, but also of the city being set apart from every evil. Walls are to keep out what ought to be out. On the other hand, its twelve gates are to allow in what ought to be in. Twelve in Scripture always is the number of governmental completeness. Administrative order in that city will be perfect. Twelve angels guard the gates, which bear the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Though the city is named for the bride, the angels are not a part of the Church. But since the heavenly city is the great exemplification of the grace of God (Galatians 4:22-29), there is the blessed reminder that Israel, though on earth, has been blessed through the same matchless grace. Also, while Israel will be the chief of the nations of the world, yet the real center of government will be "Jerusalem above" (Galatians 4:26). Three gates are on each side of the city (v. 13), which reminds us of the encampment of the tribes of Israel around the tabernacle in the wilderness (Numbers 2:1-31).

Twelve foundations support the wall of the city, and in them the names of the twelves apostles of the Lamb (v. 14). This indicates that the truth of God concerning His Son Jesus Christ, ministered by the apostles, is the solid basis of true separation according to God. Each of the apostles was given his particular line of ministry so that all together might form a well-balanced foundation that cannot fail.

The angel who had spoken to John had a golden reed to measure the city, not a reed like a rod (Revelation 11:1), for there is no longer any necessity in that city for smiting with the rod. Rather, the glory of God (gold) has triumphed over evil, and that glory will be displayed in the entire city. Yet the city is measured: there is not an unlimited manifestation of His glory, for no man could endure that (1 Timothy 6:16). The city, being limited, cannot fully manifest a God who is infinite. In Christ personally, we see God's glory revealed in such a way as to perfectly satisfy our hearts, yet God's essential glory is beyond man's capacity to observe. These measurements therefore remind us of our own limitations as humans, even when we are changed to have bodies like our Lord's body of glory (Philippians 3:21 -JND).

The measurements show the city to be a 1400-1500 mile cube (v. 16). It is certainly not, therefore, a literal city set on earth, as some have imagined. In fact, we should not think of it as a literal, material city, as though it could be compared with any earthly city. Whatever may be its visible manifestation (and it will be a reality: we will be there), the most important matter will be its vital, spiritual character, for all that we read of it emphasizes principles of living truth. The three equal dimensions remind us that it is the dwelling of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All three dimensions must be present to form a solid. If one is taken away, nothing solid remains. Therefore all of the city is comprehended in its length, all of it in its breadth and all of it in its height. We cannot say that length is part of the city, or breadth or height, for all must be there to form the city, The Father is not part of God: He is God fully and absolutely. The Son is God, the Spirit is God. This unity is absolute, marvellous, mysterious, but real.

The wall (apparently in height) is 144 cubits, 12 times 12 (v. 17). The number 12 stands out everywhere in regard to the wall. The wall is not mentioned in regard to the city in the eternal state (v. 2), perhaps because it has special reference to the administration of the Millennium where there is still sin on earth. The building of the wall is of jasper, clear and transparent as the city itself, for the wall is not intended to hide anything. The city is of pure gold, like clear glass (v. 18). Gold is not naturally transparent, but the symbols teach us spiritual facts, the pure gold speaking of God's glory in the person of the Lord Jesus manifested there, and the clear glass indicating that transparent truth will characterize the city. Everything will be open and aboveboard: there will be no wickedness thriving under cover.

The foundations (v. 19) are decorated with twelve different precious stones, just as was the case with the breastplate of the high priest in Israel (Exodus 28:15-20). The various colors of these stones reflect the various beauties of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, as revealed in the foundational ministry of the apostles in establishing the Assembly (the Church). We will not attempt to explain what may be the special significance of each stone, though it is certain that each one of them symbolizes some special reflection of the beauties of the Lord Jesus.

Each of the twelve gates is said to be of one pearl (v.21). This would be difficult to visualize literally. Spiritually, however, the pearl emphasizes the beauty of the grace of God in reference to the Church (Matthew 13:45-46). A pearl is a fitting picture of the Church. It is the result of some foreign substance coming under the oyster shell and causing an injury. The oyster then manufactures a substance called "nacre" or "mother of pearl" that surrounds the offending object with layer after layer, building up into a beautiful pearl. We are the offending object, but by God's work of grace we are covered and accepted "in Christ," with a beauty that delights His heart of love. The Church is invested with such beauty that in her is seen the exceeding riches of God's grace (Ephesians 2:7). But grace is not selfish: it delights to manifest itself to others, as these open gates infer. That grace also has pleasure in the blessing of Israel as is seen in the name of the twelve tribes of Israel on the gates.

The street corresponds to the city itself, being of pure gold, like transparent glass (v. 21). Not only our surroundings, but the area of our walk will speak of God's glory (the gold), and of clear, transparent truth (the glass). Nothing will be covered and nothing will defile our feet, nor will our feet defile that pure street.

No temple is seen in the city, for the entire city is God's dwelling (v. 22). The personal presence of God and of the Lamb makes the city itself His sanctuary. Natural objects such as the sun and moon do not provide its light, for it has a light infinitely more radiant and welcome-the shining of the bright glory of God. The Lamb is the lamp, the bearer of the light. In measure we have known this today as God has shined in our hearts for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). We know that all the light of God's glory is revealed in Christ, but in our present state there is too much smog both within us and around us to hinder its bright shining. In the holy city there will be nothing in us or in all the surrounding circumstances to obscure its shining forth.

Nations Giving Honour to the City

The nations will walk in the light of the heavenly city, for being in close proximity to the earth, it will shed its beams of blessing on all the restored nations for a thousand years. In the eternal state nations will no longer exist, but they will during the Millennium. Thus, in the Millennium the kings of the earth will bring their glory and honor to the city. They will not come into the city, but will demonstrate their allegiance to it by willing tribute. This is explained further in Zechariah 14:16-19 which shows that nations will be required to send representatives to the earthly Jerusalem every year to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. Jerusalem in Israel will be God's earthly center, and in recognizing this the nations will in this way own their allegiance to the heavenly city, the metropolis of heaven and earth, for God dwells there.

The gates are always open since it is always day (v. 25). There thus is no possibility of anything creeping in under cover of darkness. Does this imply too that in our spiritual bodies we will not sleep? Whatever the case, the entire time will be of "rest" (Hebrews 4:9). Every service that may occupy our time will be done in a constant atmosphere of rest. Stress management won't be needed there!

Verse 26 adds that the glory and honor of the nations (not only of kings) will be brought to the city. The city will be seen as the source from which the nations receive their great blessing. No defilement shall enter there-no working of abomination (idolatry) and no vestige of falsehood because only those enter whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life (v. 27). This certainly involves God's election, but added to it is the precious truth of their redemption by the great sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. The city is named for the bride, but all Old Testament saints and the martyrs of the Tribulation period also will enter the city along with those who form the Church. These are all written in the Lamb's book of life. Abraham "waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10).

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Revelation 21:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/revelation-21.html. 1897-1910.

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