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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 21

 

 

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Verses 1-8

Revelation 21:1-8. (a) The Distant View of the City.

Revelation 21:1. cf. Isaiah 65:17.—sea is no more: "To the apostolic age the ocean spoke of separation and isolation. . . . For this element of unrest, this fruitful cause of destruction and death, this divider of nations and churches, there could be no place in a world of social intercourse, deathless life, and unbroken peace" (Swete). [Ultimately this probably goes back to the conception of the sea as God's turbulent enemy, which often finds expression in the OT and is based on the Babylonian myth of the conquest of the chaos monster which preceded the creation of the world. The last things are to be like the first, the creation of new heavens and new earth will be preceded by an even more splendid triumph, in which God's ancient enemy will be utterly destroyed.—A. S. P.]

Revelation 21:2. new Jerusalem: see introductory remarks to this chapter.—a bride: cf. Revelation 19:7; also, for the imagery. Isaiah 61:10; Isaiah 62:5.

Revelation 21:3. the tabernacle: i.e. the abode of God; cf. John 1:14 mg., "The Word . . . tabernacled among us."

Revelation 21:4. death: here personified as in Revelation 20:13.—the first things: the former world.

Revelation 21:6. the Alpha and the Omega: Revelation 1:8*.

Revelation 21:7. He that overcometh: this phrase occurs in each of the letters to the seven churches. All the great promises of Rev. are made to "him that overcometh."—the fearful: the cowards who failed in the contest with paganism.—the abominable: those who took part in the abominations connected with the worship of the beast.—sorcerers: dealers in magic.—second death: Revelation 20:14*.


Verses 1-27

Revelation 21:1 to Revelation 22:5. The Vision of the New Jerusalem.—The doctrine of the new heaven and the new earth goes back to Isaiah 65:17, and is derived from the belief that the present world was so corrupt that it could not possibly be the seat of the Messianic kingdom, at any rate in its present condition. The idea was developed in the apocalyptic literature, especially in Ethiopic Enoch, the Apocalypse of Baruch , , 4 Ezra. Some expositors hold that the New Jerusalem was established with the foundation of the Christian religion, and that the history of the Church is the history of the building of the city. But such an interpretation is mere allegorising. The writer of Rev. indicates in the clearest possible way that the "holy city" will not be established upon earth till after the final judgment, and the description of the manner of its appearance does not correspond at all to anything in the history of Christianity. It is only by abandoning the plain meaning of the text that we can construe this description of the New Jerusalem in terms of the history of the Church. The writer of Rev. regarded it at any rate not as something which was to be slowly evolved in the process of the centuries, but as the final dénouement of history and the last intervention of God.

An interesting attempt to rearrange chs. 20-22 has recently been made by Charles (ET, xxvi. pp. 54f., 119f.) on the ground of the difficulty in harmonising certain statements in Revelation 21 with the situation described in Revelation 20. In Revelation 20:13-15, for instance, the final judgment has already taken place, and condemned sinners have been plunged into the lake of fire; yet in Revelation 21:8 the wicked are still described as dwelling outside the Holy City, and there is still a possibility of moral recovery; cf. Revelation 22:2, "the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." In order to avoid this apparent contradiction, Charles suggests that the writer intended to arrange his material in the following order; Revelation 20:1-3, Revelation 21:9 to Revelation 22:2, Revelation 22:14-15; Revelation 22:17, Revelation 20:4-15, Revelation 21:1-8, Revelation 22:6-7; Revelation 22:16; Revelation 22:13; Revelation 22:12, Revelation 22:8-10; Revelation 22:20. According to this scheme the account of the millennial reign of Christ is very much expanded, and contains a vision of the New Jerusalem which comes down from heaven to be the abode of Christ and the glorified martyrs during 1000 years. The rearrangement, however, is so intricate that Charles has to assume that the author of the book died after reaching Revelation 20:3, and that the material which he left for the completion of the book was put together by a "faithful but unintelligent disciple." Beet in his reply to Charles (ET, xxvi. p. 217) argues that no such rearrangement is necessary, since the lake of fire need not have caused extinction of life in the case of the wicked any more than in the case of "the beast and the false prophet," who are described in Revelation 20:10 as "being tormented for ever and ever." Other scholars, e.g. Vlter, J. Weiss, Spitta, and Bousset, prefer to assume that the materials for these chapters were derived from two, three, or even four different sources which the author of Rev. has not attempted to harmonise.

The vision of the New Jerusalem may be divided into the following sections: (a) the distant view of the new city (Revelation 21:1-8), (b) the measuring of the city (Revelation 21:9-17), (c) the character of the city (Revelation 21:18-27), (d) the river and tree of life (Revelation 22:1-5).


Verses 9-17

Revelation 21:9-17. (b) The Measuring of the City.

Revelation 21:9. seven bowls: cf. ch. 16.

Revelation 21:10. to a mountain: as in Ezekiel 40:2.

Revelation 21:11. jasper stone clear as crystal: possibly the stone indicated is a diamond or opal (Revelation 4:3*).

Revelation 21:12. twelve gates: cf. the description in Ezekiel 48:31 ff.

Revelation 21:14. twelve apostles: cf. Ephesians 2:20, "built on the foundation of the apostles"; but it is not stated here that the apostles constituted the foundations, but that the names of the apostles were inscribed on the foundations.

Revelation 21:15. Cf. Ezekiel 40:3 and Revelation 11:2, where, however, the city is destined to destruction, the Temple and altar being measured for preservation.

Revelation 21:16. The city is not merely a square, but a perfect cube, length, breadth, and height being equal. 12,000 furlongs: lit. stadia, i.e. nearly 1500 English miles. This figure might be intelligible when applied to the length and breadth, but when applied to height it becomes inconceivable. "Such dimensions defy imagination and are permissible only in the language of symbolism" (Swete).

Revelation 21:17. 144 cubits: about 216 feet. If this figure refers to the height of the wall, it seems out of all proportion to the height of the city, which was over 7,000,000 feet high. The wall and the city, therefore, do not correspond, and this is another indication that the figures are not to be taken literally.


Verses 18-27

Revelation 21:18-27. (c) The Character of the City.

Revelation 21:19 f. This list of stones should be compared with the stones of the high priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:17 ff. Exodus 39:10 ff.) and the description of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13 ff.). There is considerable difficulty in identifying these stones, but probably, as C. A. Scott (Cent.B) says, the sapphire is our lapis-lazuli, the chalcedony is our onyx, the emerald our emerald, the sardonyx our onyx, the sardius our cornelian, the chrysolite is a golden-yellow stone probably amber or topaz, the beryl is our beryl, the topaz our chrysolite but of a paler yellow, the jacinth is our sapphire, the amethyst our amethyst (see also Precious Stones in HDB).

Revelation 21:22. no temple: "The city possesses no sanctuary, for it is itself a Holy of Holies. . . . The Eternal Presence renders the New Jerusalem one vast temple" (Swete).

Revelation 21:23. This description is suggested by Isaiah 60:19. In fact the whole of Revelation 21:23-26 is practically borrowed from Isaiah 60.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Revelation 21:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/revelation-21.html. 1919.

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