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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 21

 

 

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Verse 1

3. The final glorious awardthe new heaven and earth, Revelation 21:1 to Revelation 22:5.

a. Visible descent of the New Jerusalem to the new earth, Revelation 21:1-4.

1. And—The old world—this our present earth—disappeared before the approach of the judgment throne, (Revelation 20:11.) The new celestial earth now forms the visional scene. Over its broad surface sin and pain are no more, and a sorrowless immortality reigns. But the greatest glory of the new earth is its central metropolis. It is not the old antichristic Babylon— quite the reverse; nor is it even the old Jerusalem, real or mystical, for that has gone with the old earth. But it is one which comes, in complete structure, down from God himself, from above the firmament. It is made up of materials the most glorious that thought can conceive. It is lighted, not by lamp or by sun, but by the glory of the present divine Essence; and as that neither faints nor fails, there is no night, but one ever-glorious day. Into this, their divine metropolis, the nations of the saved over the universal surface bring, not trade and manufactures, but their glory and honour.

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The immortal health and youth of the heavenly populations is secured by the following divine provision. In, as we may say, the city park, is the divine throne. From its front goes forth a very broad street. And through the length of the street there flows a crystalline river, with rows of trees on each side. The fruit of this tree and the waters of this river are immortalizing. And as these flow from the throne so the stream of man’s heavenly perpetuity flows from the immortal God. The description, and indeed the whole apocalypse proper, closes at Revelation 22:5.

I saw—The narrative is continuous with the last preceding chapter. That is, it is a description, not, as some maintain, of the gospel state, commencing with the first advent and closing with the second; nor, especially, is it a picture of the thousand millennial years of Satan’s imprisonment, as others maintain: but it is a shadowing of the post-judgment eternal state of the blessed, the final glorification—HEAVEN. For, 1. Such is the proper assumption. The writer’s order of narration must not be changed but for good assignable reason. We hold it for a fixed law, that the entire train of events of the seventh trumpet is invariably consecutive, admitting of no transposition. 2. Death exists during the millennial period; for it is not destroyed until the resurrection and judgment, Revelation 20:14. But in these chapters death does not exist, Revelation 21:4. These chapters, therefore, describe not the millennium, but the post-resurrection and post-judgment state. 3. If these two chapters are supposed to describe the millennium of Revelation 20:3-6, then the apocalyptic narrative closes very tamely with the eternal penalty of the wicked at Revelation 20:15, with no correspondent description of the eternal reward of the righteous. It possesses no well-rounded close, and a required antithesis is lost. On the contrary, the consecutive interpretation closes the apocalypse and the New Testament with a glorious termination. The Bible, which opens with the fall of man, closes with the final restoration. It finishes by leading us to, and leaving us in, glory. Where should the word of salvation leave us but in heaven?

A new heaven and a new earthA new land beneath, a new sky above. The land is seen and supposed, stretching to an indefinite extent, and capable of being, in thought, a boundless, varied plain, or even a globe.

No more sea—Dusterdieck collects a curious variety of opinions as to there being no more sea in the new world. Besides those commentators who hold the sea to be a figurative term for peoples, Andreas held that the cessation of the difficulty of distant locomotion and of the necessity of navigation renders the sea needless; Beda held that the sea would be destroyed by the final conflagration; De Wette and Luthardt, that, as the old world sprang from water, the new springs from fire; Ewald, that the idea of the abolition of the sea arises from horror of the sea in the minds of the inland peoples, as the ancient Israelites, Egyptians, and Indians; Zullig, that paradise was without a sea; Volkmar, that the sea and the abyss, or “bottomless pit,” being connected, neither belong to the new state. Finally, Dusterdieck holds that St. John means simply that the sea disappeared with the rest of the old world. Heaven, earth, and sea, he thinks, departed together, and whether a new sea appeared in the new world or not is not said. Most of these opinions are consistent with each other, and we think correct. We agree with Dusterdieck, that the triad, heaven, earth, and sea, disappear together; but the special phrase, and the sea was no more, seems to indicate that it had no existence in the new state. This accords with the other views; of Ewald, as to the ancient aversion to the sea; of Andreas, that its navigation uses were no more; and of Volkmar, that sea and abyss alike belonged not to the new system.


Verse 2

2. And I—To our seer who has been narrating the victory over Babylon, the harlot, the first thought to occur is the new Jerusalem, the bride. But after this first outburst he postpones the city to Revelation 21:9; while he stops to tell us (Revelation 21:3-8) something about the country.

From God—Of this city the builder and maker is God.

Out of heaven—Coming down from above the firmament by an opening in its vast visible concave.


Verse 3

3. And—The description of the region is dramatically given by a voice out of heaven, (Revelation 21:3-4,) and by repeated utterances of the divine occupant of the throne, 5-9. Of this heavenly land the utterances declare that God himself is a present inhabitant; that no deaths or sorrows burden its divinely salubrious air. Its inhabitants shall be gifted with the water of immortality, while all transgressors shall be excluded from its pure society.

Great voice—An utterance from an unknown utterer, but from a heavenly source.

Tabernacle—Or, tent. The allusion is to the Mosaic tabernacle in the wilderness, where Jehovah dwelt by symbol. On this new earth he will dwell in person.

Shall be his people—His new, glorified, eternal Israel.

For this is the heavenly Canaan, where all are Israel and all are Gentile. The “hundred and forty-four thousand,” and the “multitude which no man could number” of chap. 7, are now united. The tribes and the nations are one; and all may, according to a divine order, enter into the twelve gates, yet each tribal nation, perhaps, into its own gate.


Verse 4

4. The present God makes all the happiness of heaven. It is he who will wipe away all tears.

No more death—For the resurrection took place previously to the great white throne, Revelation 20:11, and death died at Revelation 20:14. The inhabitants quaff immortality from the river of life.

Crying—Rather, outcry, from the oppression and violence of assailants.

Pain—The healing leaves of the tree of life give perfect health.

Former things—The pains, sorrows, deaths, and violences of the old world.


Verse 5

b. Divine announcement of its blessedness and conditions, Revelation 21:5-8.

5. The throne—What throne? Probably the throne of Revelation 4:2. That throne of revelation did not disappear with the old earth, (note on Revelation 4:11;) and the throne of judgment, (Revelation 20:11,) appeared simply as one of the visional phenomena, just like any other symbol in the vision. The throne in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1) has not yet appeared. The throne of revelation, like the angel of the last plagues, (Revelation 22:8,) continues to the close.

New—This is the grand, final renovation.

Write these words—Of this apocalyptic revelation. This is a divine authentication of what the seer is bidden to write. Note Revelation 22:6.


Verse 6

6. And he—The sitter upon the throne.

It is done—The great plan and work of redemption are completed.

Alpha and Omega—Without a beginning or ending, he is the origin and completion of all things, as of this great plan.

I will give—The divine speaker in these two verses describes the past and settled, in terms of the future: that is, he places himself at the origin, when the conditions of salvation were laid, utters them in the future tense, and thereby describes the fulfillment that has now and forever taken place. So in Revelation 18:4-21, (where see notes,) the accomplished fall of Babylon is described in the future tense.


Verse 7

7. Overcometh—Against antichrist and the world.

All things—Better reading, these things.


Verse 8

8. The fearful—The moral coward who overcometh not, because he shrinks from fight. Thousands are lost for want of exercising moral courage against the persecutions and contempt of the world.

Unbelieving—Who deny the reality of the battle and reward, and so never overcome.

Abominable—Guilty of unnameable vices.

Sorcerers— Seducers, who win to crime by guilty fascinations.


Verse 9

c. Description of the capital of the heavenly earth—the New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:9-27.

9. One of the seven angels—As the millennium occurs between this and the last mention of this angel, it was at least a thousand years ago in the event. But in the narrative of the panorama it was, perhaps, an hour.

The bride, the Lamb’s wife—The holy Church, which has now passed through the resurrection to her glorified state. Note Revelation 19:7.


Verse 10

10. In the spirit—In the visional trance.

Great and high mountain—Not as the place on which the city was built, but as the standpoint of his survey of the city. So one gets a view of the old Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

It would doubtless require a very high mountain to afford a clear view of this metropolis of heaven. Apparently on a vast plain of the heavenly land, it rose up before the seer a stupendous luminous cube. It stood upon the surface 375 miles square, and towered up into the pure space 375 miles high! Of this cube the sides were jasper; a softly green transparency. And, as the divine Essence was centralized in the city, so this city cube was a vehicle of his glory which radiated a soft, vernal day over this heavenly earth. It was a great Kohi-noor, throwing light and life over the celestial world. Of this cubic city twelve layers of precious stones formed the basement; each layer of different hued radiance. So that this basement presented to the eye so many horizontal streaks of various brilliant colours.

Into each of the four walls there opened three lofty gates; each gate made of one massive pearl. The material of the solid city structure was a transparent gold, divided by streets and squares and places. No grander conception of the kind ever proceeded from the genius of poet or painter. And if the extraordinary height seems enormous, we must remember that it is a capitol as well as a capital. The angel-like citizens of the land of the resurrection, to whose will gravitation is subordinate, have no difficulty with its lofty chambers; and here may be laid up the books (Revelation 20:12) of the universal library, and the archives of the divine Sovereign over the nations of this wide and glorious monarchy.

We have narrated in such order as might give a united impression of this cube-city. The seer, however, narrates in the order that the perceptions of the distant object dawned upon his eye. Note, Revelation 1:12-15. First the general contour of jasper-hued walls, with the gates and foundations, 11-14. Then a regular measurement of its magnitudes, 15-17. Then a detailed picture of the many-coloured foundations, 18-21. Then its illumination, irradiating the nations, who frequent it from afar, 22-27. Last, are the throne, and the tree and river of life, Revelation 22:1-5. And that closes this apocalypse in triumphal glory. Old Babylon has been sent to hell, and New Jerusalem brought from heaven.

Descending—This resplendent block, itself of mountain size, John sees (so he declares in Revelation 21:2) descending from the opened firmament, and taking its position on the plane of the celestial earth.


Verse 11

11. Having the glory of God—Of which it was the vehicle. This, the great fact, is more fully detailed, 23-27 and Revelation 22:1-5.


Verse 12

12. Twelve gatesThree, four, and twelve are the predominant numbers; of the last, the twelve tribes are expressly said to be the basis. And the twelve tribes are symbolically the eternal Israel of this eternal city and land. They form the nations of its blessed territory.

Twelve angels—The porters of the twelve gates, which are, however, ever open. The angel warders, doubtless, see that the citizens of each tribe from the rural regions enter the gate over which its own tribal name is inscribed. There is a divine order, a well organized polity, in this new land and capital. Anarchy belongs to the other place.


Verse 13

13. Three gates on each side, always open, with an angel welcomer at each gate for all the rural excursionists to the capital.


Verse 14

14. Had twelve strata of foundations—As the gates bore the twelve tribal names, these basal strata bear the twelve apostolic names.


Verse 15

15. The measurement.

He that talked with me—The one of the seven angels of Revelation 21:9.

A golden reed—Compare Revelation 11:1.


Verse 16

16. Twelve thousand furlongs measured the four sides, eight furlongs to the mile, so that its base was 375 miles square. And as breadth and height were equal, it was a cube. It was, therefore, about as truly a house as a city. That this double significance is intended is indicated, not only by its being a tabernacle, but by the fact, suggested by Wordsworth, that the Greek word for gate, πυλων, as properly signifies the door of a house.

Nor can we doubt that the structure is an intentional exemplification of the words given by this same St. John, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Alford makes an unnecessary attempt to relieve the city of its cubical shape by assuming that its height is increased by its position being on a height, (like old Jerusalem,) and the measurement being made to the ground. But the exactitude of the statement of the equality of the three dimensions, shows that the cubical form is intended. This house-city is a temple, although it has no temple in it. And so it is (beginning with the idea of a tabernacle) at once a city, a capital, a capitol, a temple, and a royal residence, a palace.


Verse 17

17. The foursquare city was lined by a low foursquare wall; low, that is, in comparison with the vast height of the city itself. One hundred and forty-four cubits are two hundred and sixteen feet.

Measure of a man— That is, a human, not some great celestial measure, although made by the angel.


Verse 18

18. The building—That is, the superstructure standing above and upon the foundations.


Verse 19

19. Jasper, as we have seen above, is usually a stone of green transparent colour, with red veins; but there are many varieties. Sapphire is of a beautiful azure or sky-blue colour, almost as transparent and glittering as a diamond. Chalcedony seems to be a species of the agate, or more probably, the onyx. The onyx of the ancients was probably of a bluish white, and semi-pellucid. The emerald was of a vivid green, and next to the ruby in hardness.”—Stuart.


Verse 20

20. Sardonyx is a mixture of chalcedony and cornelian, which last is of a flesh colour. Sardius is probably the cornelian. Sometimes, however, the red is quite vivid. Chrysolite, as its name imports, is of a yellow or gold colour, and is pellucid. From this was probably taken the conception of the pellucid gold which constitutes the material of the city. Beryl is of a sea-green colour. The topaz of the present day seems to be reckoned as yellow; but that of the ancients appears to have been pale green. Chrysoprasus, of a pale yellow and greenish colour, like a scallion. Sometimes it is classed at the present day under topaz. Jacinth, (hyacinth,) of a deep red or violet colour.

Amethyst—A gem of great hardness and brilliancy, of a violet colour, and usually found in India.

“In looking over these various classes we find the first four to be of a green or bluish cast; the fifth and sixth, of a red or scarlet; the seventh, yellow; the eighth, ninth, and tenth, of different shades of the lighter green; the eleventh and twelfth, of a scarlet or splendid red. There is classification, therefore, in this arrangement—a mixture not dissimilar to the arrangement in the rainbow, with the exception that it is more complex. The splendour of such a foundation, or basis of the wall, admits of no question. As to the order of arrangement of colours, it is difficult to say what rule is followed, and mere mental conception about propriety of order is hardly adequate to guide us. Whether this arrangement is in conformity with some ornamental arrangements of the day which were regarded as beautiful, we cannot positively affirm; yet, in itself, this is highly probable. At all events, the precious stones here named were the same, beyond any reasonable doubt, which are mentioned as set into the breastplate of the Jewish high priest.

Exodus 28:17-20; Exodus 39:10-13. On these stones in the breastplate, moreover, were engraved the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, (Exodus 28:21; Exodus 39:14,) just as the names of the twelve apostles are here said to be engraved on the precious stones in the foundation. Revelation 21:14.”—Stuart.


Verse 21

21. Twelve pearls—The material of each gate was a solid pearl. This gave variety to the aspect.

The streetπλατεια, would include any regular spacing, as street, public square, or city park. You trod on transparent gold in walking its pavement; and you beheld structures of the same transparent gold as you looked around you.


Verse 22

22. No temple therein—No place of sacrifice and ritual, for the very God himself was present. Yet the whole was a temple, and for that very reason needed no temple therein.

Are the temple of it—The divine Presence makes its temple.


Verse 23

23. The lighting of a city it is very important to know. And no city was ever lighted like this city. It is lighted by the very Light of all lights. No candle (Revelation 22:5) needed to relieve its darkness; no gas, no calcium, no electricity, no luminiferous ether dispersed its night; no sun, no moon, created its day. The very glory of God did lighten it, being in itself one perpetual day.


Verse 24

24. Of… saved—Though doubtless giving a true meaning, these words appear to be a spurious reading, inserted by some copyist as an explanatory note.

Shall walk in the light of it—So powerful is the light of the present divine Essence, so transparent the vehicle in which it is contained, that the radiant day is flung over the vast surface of the heavenly earth. The nations of all the redeemed, in their resurrection glory, however numerous and however distant, walk in the noonday light thereof. This city is the ample luminary of all the heavenly world. Alford and Wordsworth both speak as if those kings were monarchs in our present old earth. This ignores the fact that this earth is the heavenly land, beyond the millennium, the resurrection, and the judgment. These all are kings, even though they have no subjects; and all are priests, even though there be no sacrifice. Yet kings may be there bearing rule. It is not clear that there are no degrees of the blessedness and glory of the subjects of the heavenly monarchy. Even in the new earth there may be “principalities and powers,” rulers over ten cities, and rulers over five cities. These kings may be the representatives through whom the spontaneous movements of the heavenly polity are transacted and superintended, so that the sweet harmony and blessed rhythm are ever preserved. Or we may suppose that each king, that is, every celestial dweller, has within his own being a realm. greater or lesser, of powers, glories, and felicities, infinitely superior to all earthly royalty. Or there may be in the nature and structure of the new earth, a common, undivided domain, of which each single heavenly being is a most rich and powerful proprietor, user, and king. Then what a royalty, is it not, to walk the golden streets, through the very dense divine glory, and as a prince to behold the face of the Monarch of the Universe!

Bring their glory and honour into it—Neither the nations nor the kings of this heavenly earth dwell in the capital. They come from far, many of them, and then they bring not trade, or manufactures, or garden truck, into town. But they bring their glory, (a somewhat doubtful reading,) their own affluence of magnificent being, history, and character; and their honour, that is, their adoration, for the resident King of kings in his capital. Even in this appears, perhaps, a difference of ranks and honours. Some kings are farther distant in the earth than others. On the very distant realms perhaps a dimmer glory shines. More seldom visits, less amount of glory brought, less full vision of the royal countenance, may be allowed to some kings than others. When Whitefield was asked by a bigoted follower if he expected to see Wesley in heaven, “Yes,” answered the great-hearted evangelist, “unless he should stand so much nearer the throne that I cannot descry him.”


Verse 25

25. The twelve pearl gates or doors, each three approachable from the four points of compass, shall never be shut. The twice twelve tribal nations shall ever find it day, and ever find open gates. The gates of gospel grace are ever open here on earth, the gates of the New Jerusalem shall ever be open to the dwellers of the heavenly earth.

For—Reason for mentioning day only, there shall be no night. The divine glory never remits, never dims. No revolving of the orb renders the opposite hemisphere dark. No north pole caps the arctic with ice. No glaciers chill the air, no night-shade broods with malaria, or spreads her cover over crime. Here we may read into this description the beautiful passage, Revelation 7:14-17. See our notes there.


Verse 26

26. The glory and honour—Not only of the kings but also of the nations, the collective peoples, shall pour into God’s royal capital.


Verse 27

27. But open as are these gates, there is a terrible yet salutary exclusion. As this city is glorious in structure, and most gloriously lighted, so its society is pure.

Any thing that defileth—No filthy object shall disgust the sense, or spread miasms through the pure atmosphere.

Whatsoever—Rather, no person, as the change to the masculine implies, that worked abomination or flagitious vice. The elegant debauchee is not admitted into good society. No author of any baseness—of any offense against chastity, decency, honour, or uprightness—shall enter. They have no citizenship in the heavenly earth, but are assigned their abode in a darker region.

Maketh a lie—Manufacturers of a damnable dogma, deceiving men’s souls; utterers of slanders, destroying men’s characters; writers of fictions, depraving men’s imaginations. The authors of the theory of wickedness, great “philosophers” though esteemed, take share with the practisers of the license they have preached.

Written—It is not necessary to record your name as at a modern hotel. It was written at the day of judgment analysis.

Book of life—Ephesus had its “town-clerk,” and this city has its registry of citizens; nay, a record, a census-book, of all the names of the individuals of all the nations of the heavenly earth. Augustus sent forth the decree that all the world should be enrolled for taxation. The august monarch of heaven has an enrollment of all the inhabitants of heaven.

It may be asked, Are these chapters a true description of heaven? We may ask in reply, What higher heaven can corporeal and spiritual man conceive than is here described? On a transfigured earth, immortal man walks in the atmosphere of the divine Essence, in the midst of a society of holy beings, in sight of the glorious palace of the present God. What can the sublimest human conception imagine more celestial?

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 21:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/revelation-21.html. 1874-1909.

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