9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. – Revelation 21:9-27 ESV
At this point in his vision, John receives a close-up look at the recently-descended New Jerusalem and his personal tour guide happens to be one of the angels who poured out the bowl judgments on Babylon. The wicked city of Babylon had been destroyed by God. And, as we saw in chapter 18, Babylon had been powerful and beautiful. It had been a city of great influence, politically, economically and spiritually. It had been a city built by the hands of men and filled with the power of Satan, but in virtually no time at all, God had brought it to an end.
16 “Alas, alas, for the great city
that was clothed in fine linen,
in purple and scarlet,
adorned with gold,
with jewels, and with pearls!
17 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” – Revelation 18:16-17 ESV
But the once great Babylon has been replaced with the city of God, the New Jerusalem. And John once again describes seeing it as “coming down out of heaven from God.” This is a repeat of the very same phrase used in verse 2. Unlike Babylon, this city has not been built by the hands of men, but by God. Perhaps, this is the very place to which Jesus was referring when He told His disciples:
2 “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2-3 NLT
We are not told when the New Jerusalem came into existence. It could be that it has always been there, but makes its earthly appearance at the end of the millennium. But the important thing to note are the many words and terms used to describe its uniqueness. It comes down from heaven. It is holy and called the bride of the Lamb. It contains the glory of God Himself and it is His glory that provides all the light needed for life. There is no night in the city and no presence of anything unclean, impure, immoral, sinful or unrighteousness. This is the ideal city. And it is fascinating to note the difference between what God provides and what mankind attempt to provide on its own. One can’t help but contrast the scene recorded in Genesis 11, when the people of earth chose to disobey God and, rather than spreading across the face of the earth, being fruitful and replenishing it, they chose to stay in one place, build a city and a great tower and make a name for themselves. Moses records that “the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built” (Genesis 11:5 ESV). They had been successful. They had turned their dream to “build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4 ESV) into a reality. Over and over again, we read their ambitious words, “let us make” and “let us build.” Notice that the creation of their city and its great tower were their doing. They built up. But God’s city came down. It descended from God and, as a result, it contained the glory of God.
As he has done so many times before, John attempts to provide us with a detailed description of all that he is seeing, but he’s constrained by the limits of human language and the inadequacy of earthly images as comparisons. The point of his description is not that we might have a detailed architectural rendering of the city, but that we might begin to grasp its sheer glory. This city is massive in size and magnificent in design. There is order to its every detail. There is meaning behind every aspect of its shape, size, and structure. But when it comes to the exact dimensions, it would seem that John is not trying to give us precise architectural measurements so that we might be able to recreate the city on a piece of paper. The whole chapter seems to suggest that this city is unable to be replicated by man. It is one-of-a-kind and divinely unique in nature and appearance. All the mention of gold and precious jewels are meant to provide us with some idea of just how beautiful and priceless this city will be. It will be massive in size and scope, and yet filled with precious metals and priceless stones, which happen to be used as construction materials, not simply adornments.
The other significant aspect of John’s description of the city is the inclusion of references to both the people of God, Israel, and the church. There will be 12 gates guarded by 12 angels, and above those gates will be engraved the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. And the wall of the city will have 12 foundations upon which will be written “the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14 ESV). Paul refers to this very same thing in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.
Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. – Ephesians 2:20 NLT
The people of God and the church of Jesus Christ are represented in this city. And while it is referred to as “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9 ESV), that does not mean the city is a representation of the church. This is the city of God, and it will include all the people of God, including the remnant of His chosen people, the nation of Israel, as well as all those chosen or elect in Christ. And we are told that the nations of the earth will come in and out of the city, bringing their glory with them. This is not a reference to their own personal glory, but the glory they bring in order to honor God. The focus of the eternal state will be God and Him alone. No longer will men self-glorify or make much of creation. They won’t be tempted to magnify self or worship something other than God. Idolatry will have no place in the eternal state. There will be no false gods. The New Jerusalem and the new earth will be filled by all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
And one of the most significant aspects of this new city is found in verse 22. In almost a flippant, throw-away sense, John simply states, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” This is hugely significant. Both the tabernacle and the temple were primary structures in the religious mindset of the Israelites. These were the places where the people came to offer their sacrifices to God. The Holy of Holies contained the mercy seat, over which the glory of God hovered, and upon which the yearly atonement was made for the sins of the people. But in the New Jerusalem, there will be no temple. There will be no holy place or holy of holies. Because, as John states, its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. No longer will men have to try and earn access into God’s presence, because His presence will permeate every aspect of life. We will have unlimited, unhindered access into the presence of God and His Son, at all times. Their glory will surround us, in the form of light. Their grace will be constantly available to us. There will be no darkness to obscure our view of them. There will be no sin to separate us from them. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this very day and his words provide us with God’s promise that the vision of John will one day become a reality.
19 The sun shall be no more
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give you light;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
20 Your sun shall no more go down,
nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.
21 Your people shall all be righteous;
they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
that I might be glorified.
22 The least one shall become a clan,
and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the Lord;
in its time I will hasten it. – Isaiah 60:19-22 ESV
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.