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Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 21

 

 

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Verse 1

The New Heavens and the New Earth (Revelation 21:1-8).

‘And I saw a new Heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away, and the sea is no more.’

We read about the passing away of the first heaven and the first earth in Revelation 20:11. But all is now light. For all things are new and full of righteousness and purity. This is the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13), where former things will not be remembered or come to mind (Isaiah 65:17). ‘The sea is no more’. To Israel who made little use of the sea it was always a troubled sea. They saw how quickly it could be stirred up from its innocence and become a tumult. It was from the sea that the tumult among men came (Revelation 13:1. Compare Job 38:8-11; Psalms 89:9; Isaiah 57:20.). However that has now passed away. There is now no source of tumult.


Verse 2

‘And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.’

See Revelation 21:9-10. This descent is on the new earth, the new creation. The creation of Genesis 1 is no more, except in the sense that it has been the prototype of the new creation. The idea is that just as God created the old world and then created man to people it, so now, having created the new unpopulated earth He sends down from Heaven the city of His people (compare Hebrews 12:22), to the prepared place (compare John 14:3). And the people descend together as a city (for they were previously in Heaven - Revelation 14:1-3) and are one together and form the bride. The holy city has put on her beautiful garments (Isaiah 52:1) and is as a bride adorned for her husband.

That Jerusalem is the bride parallels Revelation 19:7 and the wording is very similar, demonstrating that the new Jerusalem is to be seen as representing the people of God. The bride was a composite figure, for she consisted of the whole people of God, and the new Jerusalem is the same, for in the end a city is its people. Compare how in Matthew 8:34 ‘all the city came out to meet Jesus’ (a city ‘coming out’ is similar to a city ‘coming down’. See also Matthew 11:20; Matthew 12:25; Matthew 21:10; Mark 1:33; Mark 6:11; Luke 4:43; Acts 13:44; Acts 14:21; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:16). Thus it is now ‘the holy city’. Previously His people were the holy sanctuary (Revelation 11:1) in which God dwelt (1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19), now they are seen as one with, and part of, the holy city wherein God will dwell (v. 3). Jerusalem is created a rejoicing and her people a joy (Isaiah 65:18). This is the work of the Amen (Isaiah 65:16), and the former troubles will be forgotten (v. 17).


Verse 3

‘And I heard a great voice from the throne saying, “Behold the tabernacle of God (place where God tabernacles Himself) is with men and he will tabernacle with them and they will be his peoples and God Himself will be with them and be their God”.’

This closeness is further emphasised. The new Jerusalem replaces the tabernacle of God. Just as the people of God had been His sanctuary and had replaced the Temple, and as God once dwelt in the tabernacle in the pillar of fire, and revealed Himself in the Shekinah glory (an inter-testamental concept, but rooted in the Old Testament revelations of God revealing His glory), so will He now ‘dwell in glory’ (the same root as shekinah) with His people in a way not known before. The glorious city of God, His people, will have dwelling within and among them for ever, the fullness of the glory of God. This is the final and complete fulfilment of John 14:23.

Men will also now dwell with Him in this ‘place where God tabernacles Himself’ of which they are a part, and will be always in His presence, and He will be with them and be their God (see Ezekiel 37:26-27 also Zechariah 8:8). We can compare with this idea the promise to overcomers that they will be pillars in the Temple of God (Revelation 3:12). So just as the Word dwelt among us and we beheld His glory (John 1:14) now God in His fullness will dwell among us in the full revelation of His glory.

Note the plural of ‘peoples’ (while some authorities have ‘people’ it is clearly the easier reading, while there would be no tendency to change the other way). The stress is on the fact that His people are made up of many peoples, compare Revelation 21:24 where they are ‘the nations’.

‘A great voice from the throne.’ The living creatures are still active in drawing attention to the activities of God (see Revelation 16:17; Revelation 19:5).


Verse 4

‘And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, the first things are passed away.’

Compare Revelation 7:17 where the wiping away of tears was promised to the martyrs. Now it is for all God’s people. The former troubles are forgotten (Isaiah 65:16). Compare also Isaiah 25:7-8 where death is swallowed up for ever and the Lord God will wipe away all tears from all faces, and remove the veil of mourning. ‘Neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain’. John is concerned that in the coming suffering and persecution of the people of God described throughout the book, which will include the pain of the loss of loved ones, the people will realise that one day all their suffering will be taken away.

‘Death will be no more’ for it has been destroyed in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). Isaiah 35:10 reveals the scene with a greater emphasis on joy, ‘the ransomed of the Lord will return and will come with singing to Zion, and everlasting joy will be on their heads, and they will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away’.


Verse 5

‘And he who sits on the throne said, “Behold I make all things new”.’

In case this all seems too good to be true God Himself now confirms it personally. Previously He has been passive while the action He has initiated goes on around Him. But now He speaks, for it is His own people who are involved, and He declares ‘Behold, I make all things new!’ And then goes on to outline His intentions on the basis of the fact that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the Ending. Now He will prove Himself to be the Ending. he will bring His work to a satisfactory conclusion. (We can compare the similar situation in Revelation 11:3 when God said ‘I will give’, in contrast with ‘it was given’ in Revelation 7:2; Revelation 9:5).

Compare here Isaiah 43:18-19. God is doing a new thing and is providing life-giving waters, giving drink to His people, to His chosen (Isaiah 43:20, see Revelation 21:6 here), having Himself blotted out their transgressions and stopped remembering their sins (Isaiah 43:25). Compare also 2 Corinthians 5:17 where men in Christ form a new creation and all things become new. This is the final fulfilment of those first beginnings, brought about by the work of Him Who reconciled His people to Himself through Christ. The groaning of the old creation (Romans 8:18-25) has ceased and all is now fully restored.


Verse 5-6

‘And he says, “Write. For these words are faithful and true”. And he said to me, “They have come about. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and I will give freely to him who is thirsty of the water of life”.’

Elsewhere it is Christ, the Word of God, Who is faithful and true (Revelation 19:11, compare Revelation 3:14). It is He Who is the faithful witness (Revelation 3:14, compare Revelation 1:5). But now God’s words spoken here are also faithful and true. There is no doubt of their fulfilment for they are the promises of One Who can be fully relied on.

‘They have come about’ - in the new Jerusalem all that He has promised has happened, and can be seen as already fulfilled. (This phrase is written as ‘It is done’ in an equal number of authorities - compare Revelation 16:17, but the final significance is the same).

For ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega (see on Revelation 1:8 and compare Revelation 1:17), the beginning and the end’ (see also Revelation 22:13). All things came from Him, He is the source of all things, and all things lead to Him so that He is all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28). Thus He sums up in Himself the whole of existence. And that in itself is the guarantee of the fulfilment of His future purposes and promises.

‘I will give freely to him who is thirsty of the water of life.’ This was the cry of the water-seller on God’s behalf in Isaiah 55:1, water, wine and milk without money and without price. Compare also John 7:37, ‘if any man thirst let him come to me and drink’. Water was the life-giving commodity that all men craved. Without it they could not survive for it was the very basis of life. Now it is freely available as the water of life (see Revelation 22:1; Revelation 22:17). Here is promised fullness of life.


Verse 7

‘He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.’

This is the focus of the whole book, the overcomer. The letters of the seven churches are written for their benefit and encouragement, the body of Revelation has revealed their battles, their sufferings and their glory, and now they receive their inheritance, ‘the inheritance of the people of God in light’ (Colossians 1:12; Colossians 3:24; Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 1:14). ‘I will be his God and he will be my son’. The cherished promise of 2 Samuel 7:14 to David (compare Psalms 2:7), applied to Jesus Christ in Hebrews 1:5, is here applies to His people. They will be His beloved, specially chosen and precious.


Verse 8

‘But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and those who involve themselves in the occult, and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. This is the second death.’

In contrast are unsaved sinners as outlined. These lose the inheritance (Ephesians 5:5). The two verses are in deliberate contrast outlining the choice of men in the face of what is, at the time of writing, to come. The fearful are those who withdraw in the face of persecution. The unbelieving are those who fail to stand in the name of Christ. The abominable are those who follow the abominations of the beast. The murderers are especially those who martyr God’s people, because they do not abide in the truth. They are like the Devil (John 8:44). The fornicators are those who follow Jezebel and the harlot. Those who involve themselves in the occult (‘sorcerers’) are those who respond to Satan and his powers. Idolaters are those who worship the beast and his image. All liars are they who support ‘The Lie’ instead of the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:11) and who are like the father of lies (John 8:44). For these there can be only one destiny, the fires of destruction, the second death (see Revelation 20:6; Revelation 20:14).


Verses 9-11

Vision 10 The Bride, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9 to Revelation 22:5).

‘And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues, and he spoke with me saying, “Come this way and I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb”. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down from God out of Heaven, having the glory of God.’

It is fitting that one who poured out the bowl of the wrath of God, and who showed to John the great harlot city (Revelation 17:1), should now also reveal the opposite side of the picture, the glorious privileges of the redeemed and the holy city. Here we have clearly confirmed that the New Jerusalem consists of the people of God. It is they who are the bride of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:2).

‘He carried me away in the Spirit.’ This is a new vision. Once again John is borne by the Spirit as Ezekiel was before him (compare Revelation 17:3; Revelation 1:10; Ezekiel 3:12; Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 11:1; Ezekiel 11:24; Ezekiel 37:1; Ezekiel 43:5).

‘To a great and high mountain’, compare Ezekiel 40:2 where it is the place where Ezekiel will see the new Temple. Here we have in the New Jerusalem the final fulfilment of Ezekiel’s vision. The phrase suggests that the watcher will see something special, a glorious panorama.

‘The holy city Jerusalem coming down from God out of Heaven, having the glory of God.’ Compare Ezekiel 21:2. This holy city is the bride of Christ, the people of God. But John is now about to receive more detail about this ‘city of God’. In Ezekiel 43:2; Ezekiel 43:4-5; Ezekiel 44:4 it is the new Temple that has the glory of God, but as John has already told us, it is this city (the new Jerusalem) which is now to be the dwelling place of God (Ezekiel 21:3) (as the Temple and Tabernacle were previously seen as being, if only temporarily. Compare 1 Kings 8:11; 2 Chronicles 5:14; Exodus 40:34-35). Thus the glory of God is revealed (Isaiah 40:5; Isaiah 60:1) and signals His divine presence.


Verses 11-13

‘Her light was like a most precious stone, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal, having a wall great and high, having twelve entrances, and at the entrances twelve angels, and names written on them (the entrances) which are those of the twelve tribes of the children if Israel.’

The light of the city was bright and eye dazzling like the light from a diamond or opal (in John’s time ‘iaspis’ could represent a variety of stones and we must decide from the context which one is intended). Compare Revelation 4:3. ‘A wall great and high’. This signifies her total security, she is under God’s protection.

‘Having twelve entrances, and at the entrances twelve angels, and names written on them which are those of the twelve tribes of Israel. On the east were three entrances, on the north three entrances, on the south three entrances and on the west three entrances.’ The twelve tribes of Israel were described in Revelation 7:4-8 where they represented the true people of God, the new Israel, the church (see on those verses). Thus the fact that their names are on the entrances demonstrates that this is their city and their abode. Enter in and we find the people of God. The twelve angels at the gates, like the high wall, demonstrate that they enjoy God’s full protection.

Each side has three entrances on which are names of tribes of Israel. Three is the number of completeness. Compare Numbers 2 where the tribes of Israel were three to each side of the Tabernacle. The same idea is found here.


Verse 14

‘And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.’

The city is founded on the twelve apostles, as was the Temple which comprised the church (Ephesians 2:20). The conjunction of the twelve tribes of Israel with the twelve apostles demonstrates that we have here the true people of God of all ages. ‘The twelve apostles’ signifies the whole apostleship, it is not intended to discriminate who the twelfth apostle may be (whether Matthias or Paul).


Verses 15-17

‘And he who spoke with me had for a measure a golden reed to measure the city and its gates and its wall. And the city lies foursquare, and its length is as great as its breadth, and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs (stadia), and its length and breadth and height are equal. And he measured its wall, one hundred and forty four cubits according to the measure of man, that is of an angel.’

For the measuring reed compare Ezekiel 40:3 and Revelation 11:1. The fact that this is a golden reed connects it with the inner sanctuary where everything was made of gold. The dimensions of the city demonstrate its perfection, it is a perfect cube. In 1 Kings 6:20 we discover that the holy of holies in the Temple was also a perfect cube. This is God’s new holy of holies. It is a perfect place. Thus the people of God as represented by this city are God’s new Sanctuary (compare Revelation 3:12).

The dimensions based on an intensification of twelve confirm the connection with the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. God’s new sanctuary is His people. That this is symbolic and that not all is to be taken literally comes out in the measurement of the height. What is the height of a city, and how can it be a cube? It may mean its walls but this would be an unusual way of measuring the height of a city for it would have towers above the walls. It is rather an ‘ideal’ description. The one hundred and forty four cubits of the wall is presumably its thickness. But this is not a brick-built city, it is the people of God, and what is being denoted is not size but perfection and quality and security.

That the wall is one hundred and forty four cubits (presumably its thickness) possibly combines twelve (foundations) with twelve (entrances) again stresses that the Old and New Testament people of God are seen together. Although it is the measure of man it is the angel who measures the wall as John quaintly explains.


Verse 18

‘And the building of its wall was jasper, and the city was pure gold like pure glass.’

The jasper is presumably similar to the jasper of Revelation 21:11, clear as crystal which, with the glass-like nature of the city, demonstrates its purity and righteousness. The mention that it is made of gold stresses that it is beyond price and demonstrates its magnificence. Even Solomon’s Temple and Herod’s Temple pale into insignificance beside it. It again indicates its identity with the inner Sanctuary.


Verse 19-20

‘The foundations of the walls of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stone, the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth, emerald, the fifth, sardonyx, the sixth, sardius, the seventh, chrysolite, the eighth, beryl, the ninth, topaz, the tenth, chrysoprase, the eleventh iacinth, the twelfth, amethyst,’

Identification of the stones is not possible on our present state of knowledge, but they are probably intended to parallel the stones in the High Priest’s breastplate (Exodus 28:17 on; Exodus 39:10 on), compare also Ezekiel’s description of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13 on). So the purpose of the stones is to accentuate the splendour of the city, but also to indicate that those who dwell there can freely approach God. The stones are the foundation, containing the names of the twelve Apostles (Revelation 21:14). It is possible therefore that the apostles (the foundation) are seen as replacing the position of the High Priest, bearing the names of God’s people before God. Indeed, while there is no Temple (Revelation 21:22), the city itself is the equivalent of the inner Sanctuary, and its Apostles are the High Priest. The Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb are its Temple. Thus we have underlined the unity of God’s people with Himself, as being the Sanctuary within the Temple.


Verse 21

‘And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each one of the several gates was one pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.’

In Matthew 7:6 pearls represented what was holy and precious, compare the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:46). Gold again is symbolic of the holy sanctuary, where all is made of gold. The transparency may well denote total openness and honesty. The city contains all that is most splendid. We can compare many of these splendours with those which poured into Babylon at its finest (Revelation 17:4; Revelation 18:12), but here it is heavenly gold, heavenly jewels and heavenly pearls of a size unknown to earth.

But in the new creation such things as gold and precious stones in their literal senses will be meaningless. They are used as descriptions here only because of fallen man’s peculiar propensities. They denote what is better far than gold. Note that only one street is mentioned and yet there are twelve entrances. As there are no buildings the whole inside may be intended to be seen as the street. The point is that all is of gold. (Not liveable in but splendid in conception).


Verse 22-23

‘And I saw no Temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb are its Temple. And the city has no need of the sun nor of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God did lighten it and its lamp is the Lamb.’

No temple is needed for the Lord God walks within it. He and the Lamb are its Temple, i.e. men worship directly and personally face to face. It has no need of any light other than the light of God and the Lamb (compare Isaiah 60:19). The whole place is filled with Their glory.

‘No sun and moon.’ This would come as a shock to those who worshipped the sun and the moon. The idolatrous ideas of men are finished with. Nor will God’s people ever again have to call on light other than the perfect light of God. Compare Isaiah 60:19. This is the final fulfilment of what the prophets promised.


Verse 24

‘And the nations shall walk by means of its light (the light of the glory of the Lord), and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it, and its entrances will never be shut by day, for there will be no night there, and they will bring the honour and the glory of the nations into it.’

The city is made up of the people of God and among the people of God there will be kings and many nations (compare Isaiah 60:3 : Psalms 72:11), and they will bring into the city all that they have which is best, even all their honour and glory. This cannot refer to earthly possessions for they have long ago suffered corruption and been left behind. This refers to their righteousnesses (Revelation 19:8), their honour, the gold, silver and jewels they received at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:12), to the precious things they have stored up in Heaven through their righteous living (Matthew 6:19-20). These are they who are written in the Lamb’s book of life (v. 27).

The point John is making is that not all kings of the earth are enemies of the people of God, not all of the nations are rejected. For some have wholly accepted Christ. There will be those of them who have their part in the holy city. (Revelation 21:27 makes clear that they are those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. This is no Millennial city).

The entrances will never be closed because entrances are only closed when night comes down and evil men begin to walk abroad, but there is no night here. The light of the glory of God and of Christ shines continually. All is light, transparent and open. The presence of God is continual and gives continual light (and there is clearly no need for sleep. The spirits of just men made perfect do not need sleep). And there are no evil men for they have no access as the next verse makes clear.


Verse 27

‘And under no circumstances will anything unclean enter it, or he who makes an abomination and a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.’

This final sentence confirms all we have said. The city only consists of those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. It is only for the true people of God. No ‘living nations’ can enter it if they are not of the people of God, for it is for the people of God and for them alone. Totally excluded (because they have been dealt with elsewhere) are idolaters, those who are unclean, which probably especially refers to sexual uncleanness in accordance with what we have seen earlier in the book, but also includes uncleanness of any sort, and any who have preferred falsehood to truth. The city of God is for ‘virgins’, for those who are without blemish, for those in whose mouth there is no lie (Revelation 14:4-5). Only the perfected can make up the city of God.

The idea, of course, is that those who do such things are excluded in principle. They are not outside trying to sneak in. They no longer exist. Their exclusion was settled long before.

It is clear that no such city would exist in its physical proportions and make up. But it is not intended that it should exist physically (even if anything could be seen as physical in the new world). What is intended is to bring out the splendour, the glory, the privilege, the perfection and the fullness of the people of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 21:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/revelation-21.html. 2013.

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