Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 42 - The City Of God (21:9-22:5)

As already mentioned, when John saw the new heavens and earth, all he actually saw was “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven” (21: 1, 2). This was now made known to him in greater de

tail. Very evidently the picture set down in words in Revelation 21, 22 is symbolic. After the preceding twenty chapters the reader is prepared for this.

Here is a city, which has the same length and breadth and height (21: 16). Its encompassing wall is 72 yards thick - unless, that is, this measurement (v. 17) is intended to give the height of it, in which case the difficulty is just as great, only in a different dimension. The emphasis on foundations and gates made of all kinds of precious stones (v. 19-21) points strongly to the same conclusion. “The city was pure gold, like unto clear glass” is a further description that refuses to yield a literal meaning.


Yet it is to be noted that there are traceable at least eight distinct allusions to the temple described in Ezekiel 40 48:


A great and high mountain.

Measured by a man who is an angel.
40:3, 5

It is foursquare.

There are twelve gates three on each side, and each with a name of a tribe of Israel.

A river of water of life

has trees of life on its banks.

The Glory of the Lord is there.
21:11, 23
43 :4; 48:35

God dwells with men.
43 :7-9

The reconciliation of a literal interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48 with the obvious symbolism of the last chapters of Revelation is too difficult an exercise in Bible interpretation to be attempted here.

There are also certain important differences from Ezekiel. The dimensions of the city are not the same. Five hundred reeds (Ezekiel 42:20) or twenty-five thousand reeds (48: 8, etc.), whichever measurement is chosen, is hardly the same as twelve thousand furlongs (21: 16). Nor is there any suggestion in Ezekiel that the length and breadth and height are equal.

There are also certain designed resemblances and contrasts with the tabernacle in the wilderness. As ancient Jerusalem became, so to speak, the spiritual descendant of the tabernacle, so this holy city is the glorification of the heavenly sanctuary that has been repeatedly described or alluded to in Revelation (e.g. chapters 4, 5, 7, 15). These details will be brought out as the study proceeds.


Oddly enough, there are also certain associations with Babylon, the city of judgement. This city of God is a hundred times larger in its dimensions than the hundred and twenty furlongs each way which ancient Babylon boasted. As Babylon had the Euphrates running through the middle of it[84] and the temple of Bel at its centre, so this city has a river of water of life, and the very presence of God within it. Babylon had its famous hanging gardens, but the new Jerusalem is the Paradise of God, luxuriant with trees on either side of the river. Men talked of three chariots driving abreast on top of the walls of Babylon, but the measure of these walls (height or width) is given at seventy yards or more -” according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel,” for in this city men have become “equal to the angels... being the children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36).

The problem of a symbolic city in which “the length and the breadth and the height are equal” (21:16) is resolved by reference to the tabernacle. The Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God among His People, was a perfect cube. Hence: “I saw no sanctuary therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the sanctuary of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb” (21:22, 23). The Holy of Holies was without natural or artificial illumination. It was lit, only on the Day of Atonement, by the radiance of the Glory of God, declaring the putting away of Sill through God’s acceptance of one sin-offering for the transgressions of all the people. So this uninterrupted fulness of Glory in the New Jerusalem indicates the putting away of sin for all time, through the blood of the Lamb. And “the lamp thereof is the Lamb,” suggests that he is the Glory of God in the holy city: “With thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:9).


The strange symbolic dimensions of this enormous cubical city are readily accounted for. There are twelve edges to a cube, and

12,000 furlongs x 12 = 144,000.

which is the symbolic number of the redeemed, a number already reached in chapter 7 by allocating 12,000 to each of 12 tribes.

The symbolism of an extra dimension - height, besides length and breadth - was anticipated by Paul: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with ali saints what is the breadth and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).

Every phrase here had reference to the sanctuary of God. The word “dwell” describes the saints as the dwelling-place of God. “Grounded” makes reference to both tabernacle and temple (e.g. 1 Kings 5:17). The three dimensions are the measures of the Holy of Holies-but “height” is also “depth”, because the purpose of the sanctuary is a two-way traffic: “angels of God ascending and descending upon” a mercy seat, which is “the Son of man.” The idea, already discussed in Chapter 41, that the life in Christ leads on to the addition of new spiritual faculties, both here and hereafter, is suggested by “the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge”. And “filled with all the fulness of God”, was what happened when “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:35), and the temple of Solomon (2 Chronicles 5:14), and the temple described by Ezekiel (43:4) and Isaiah (4:5, 6; 60:1), and especially the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21: 11, 22, 23).


The description of this Glory merits special attention: “the light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.” How inadequate this is as a word picture of the effulgent majesty of this radiance. In nuclear bombs men have succeeded in producing a flash of light far brighter than they dare look upon. And no wonder they dare not, for they do not know how closely they are approaching the physical expression of divine energy (Acts 26:13).

“Like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” probably refers to the diamond in its most excellent and impressive form (p. 40). This and gold (verse 18) both have associations with immortality and the divine nature (4:3). Appropriately, then, the jasper is the last stone in the breastplate of the high priest (Exodus 28: 20), but the first of the foundations of the New Jerusalem (verse 19).


“And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass” (verse 18). The words are puzzling. The tremendous emphasis in 1 Kings 6:20-22, 30 on a gold finish to everything in the sanctuary built by Solomon suggests at least a like splendour here. But “like unto clear glass” perhaps implies solid gold, in contrast to overlaid gold (that is, gold leaf), and burnished so as to be as effective a mirror as the finest glass. Alternatively, this last phrase may be associated with the wall of jasper, and so describe the lustrous gold of the city as seen through the scintillating radiance of a diamond. Inevitably the imagination boggles at these concepts, as no doubt it is intended to do, for how can mortal man hope to fathom the transformed glories of new heavens and new earth?

Like the cities of the Anakim, walled unto heaven, which over-awed faithless Israelites when they explored the Land of Promise (Deuteronomy1: 28), this city wall is great and high (verse 12). The important difference is that this city is the Land of Promise, and the faithful are within its walls. Nothing can rob them of their inheritance.


Besides a wall (of Salvation) great and high, there are twelve gates (of Praise; Isaiah 60:18). The tabernacle had its wall of holiness - a linen curtain of dazzling whiteness contrasting with the drab black and brown goats’ hair tents of sin-stricken Israelites. And it had a gate - but only one, which was specially associated with the camp of Levi. By contrast, here is a wall, which proclaims immortality, and gates, which give access from north, south, east and west (Luke 13:28, 29) for those who have taken on them the name of Israel and of one of its tribes.

At these gates are twelve angels. For what purpose? When Christ rose from the dead, “the angel of the Lord ... rolled back the stone ... and sat upon it” (Matthew 28:2). In this way the tomb which men had sealed shut was now divinely sealed open. So also in the holy city, these angels secure that “the gates shall not be shut at all by day (and there shall be no night there!)”; so the way of entry is permanently open. Then does this mean the possibility of exaltation to immortality at any time during the Millenium? It has always been assumed that there must be another resurrection and judgement at the end of the Kingdom of Christ. On what Biblical grounds?

The Book of Revelation has several references to seven angels (1: 20; 8:2; 15:7), but rather remarkably no other mention of twelve angels. When Israel were protected from Passover destruction in Egypt, twelve legions of angels were on duty that night, exercising a divine guard over the homes of twelve tribes of faithful Israelites - (Exodus 12: 23). At another Passover all of these stood ready to come to the aid of the Son of God: “Thinkest thou not that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall even now send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). In the age to come, the captains of these heavenly hosts are still “ministering spirits ... for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). Their work will not be ended with the resurrection.

Each of the gates is inscribed with the name of one of the sons of Jacob, who became Israel. These names are there because their owners repented of what they did to the Saviour whom God raised up for them. The story of the sons of Jacob in Egypt shews up very clearly the change of heart, which came over Joseph’s murderous brothers. They could have attempted to save themselves at Benjamin’s expense (Genesis 44:I2), but they did not. They had got rid of one favourite. Then why should they hesitate about another? Instead, their immediate return to Egypt when Joseph’s cup was discovered and the confession of their crime when they returned to Jacob (45: 26) both shew a wholesome and repentant spirit. For this their names are written for all time on the gates of pearl. And all who are prepared to shew a like humility have opportunity of a like privilege.


The foundations of the tabernacle were silver sockets (Exodus 26:25, 32 etc.), teaching all who came to the sanctuary that redemption was their great need and that here was the place where God provided it. There is no mention of the material of which these foundations were made, but it also may be safely presumed to be silver, “for other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). And even though the people of the New Jerusalem have no further need of redemption, they will never cease to be glad of every reminder of the fact. For this reason they will eat of the New Passover when it is “fulfilled in the kingdom of God” and they will “drink of the fruit of the vine in the Father’s kingdom” in lasting commemoration of salvation in Christ.

These twelve foundations of the city will each have as its own ornamentation one of the precious stones, which were formerly set in the breastplate of the high priest. But now the entire community of the redeemed will be openly declared to be holy and precious before God: “the city (of Jerusalem) shall be built to the Lord;” every part of it, including Gehenna and the place of the ashes, all that was formerly unclean will be made clean in the city of the New Covenant: “it shall be holy unto the Lord”, holy as the High Priest himself (Jeremiah 31: 38-40, Exodus 28:36-38). The Jeremiah passage (Septuagint) even adds mention of “precious stones”. In this city “there shall be upon the bells of the horses, Holy to the Lord; and the (earthenware) pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the (golden) bowls before the altar” (Zechariah 14:20).

Since the foundations of the wall are necessarily round the perimeter of the city it becomes almost a necessary inference that the same stones were set in the breastplate of the high priest round its perimeter and not in horizontal rows, as is more commonly represented. This, with the addition of the Divine Name in the central space, provides a small-scale replica of the camp of Israel with the tabernacle of witness at its centre.

On the foundations of the holy city are inscribed “the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” These names are there not only because the Twelve now “sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” but because this spiritual Israel has been gathered in through their efforts and their preaching, and especially because they followed Christ when he was the Lamb. Therefore are they with him now, essential constituents in his city of splendour.

If indeed he needed further reassurance, John saw his own name written on one of those foundation stones (on which one?). He saw also the name of the twelfth who took the place of Judas, and so knew the answer to an enigma which has puzzled many.


“And the street of the city was pure gold transparent as glass” (verse 21). The word used here means “a broad place”. The normal New Testament meaning is “a street”, but since this city which is being described is also a temple, the reference must be to the court of the temple. What in the tabernacle was bare earth or sand, and in Solomon’s temple was probably paved stone, is now “clean gold”. All the equipment of the outer court of the tabernacle was of brass, but the prophet had already declared that “for brass I (the Lord thy Saviour) will bring gold” (Isaiah 60:17).

But how can gold be transparent? Again this emphasis on two seemingly incompatible characteristics (as in verse 18) must be a way of emphasizing that the gold is burnished so as to be like a mirror. And, since the city is illuminated by neither sun nor moon nor seven-branched candlestick but by the glory of God and of the Lamb, it follows that wherever the eye travels in this city-temple there is always the lustrous radiance of the Shekinah Glory, either seen directly or perfectly reflected from gold made “clean” - this gold is “not like unto corruptible things as silver and gold”, as men refine them.

The same truth is enunciated again in yet more explicit fashion: “And there shall in no wise enter into it anything ‘common’ (that is, unsanctified) nor any person who practises abomination or falsehood” (verse 27). There were times in Israel’s history (e.g. Ezekiel 8:10, 11) when the temple was profaned with loathsome pagan practices. But that can never happen to this temple. Nor will there be any place for the lie of the serpent, for he belongs in a lake, which burns with fire and brimstone (verse 8).

Only those enter this temple whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. In the time of Ezra certain were excluded from the priesthood because their title to office could not be produced. So their claim was set-aside “till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim” to give a divine decision (Ezra 2:63). An ominous warning had been issued to the unfaithful in Sardis that they might find their names blotted out of the book of life by the One who had prevailed to take the book out of the hand of “Him who sits upon the throne”. It was a grim reminder of the awesome possibility that a man may have his name written in the book of life, and yet may also have it expunged. But not so now, as the Greek phrase beautifully emphasizes. This blessing of citizenship in the New Jerusalem is for those whose names “stand written” in the Lamb’s book of life: “thy people shall be all righteous.”


Into this city-temple “they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations” (verse 26). Every sanctuary of God described in the Bible was constructed out of Gentile resources. In the wilderness the tabernacle was equipped out of the plunder brought from Egypt. The splendour of Solomon’s temple came from David’s military successes against all the nations round about, and Gentile craftsmen fashioned it. The temple built after the captivity in Babylon was equipped by the people of Babylon and the Persian king (Ezra 1:4, 6; 6:4, 8). The temple in the time of Jesus was built by Herod the Great, an Edomite. And in the age to come, the same principle will hold, both materially and spiritually: “The kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it’’.[85]


There are certain outstanding resemblances between this Paradise Restored and the original Eden. There is a river of water of life, and there are trees of life (not just one tree of life). And “there shall be no more curse”, nor any serpent that “maketh a lie.” The removal of the curse of mortality (Genesis 3:17-19) refers specifically to the redeemed in the Millenium, for “the leaves (of the trees of life) are for the healing of the nations” (22:2). But the curse of “thorns and thistles” will be gone, in this wondrous epoch when “the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose” (Isaiah 35:1).

Is the reference to the trees of life to be taken literally? This is the Book of Revelation! And in Isaiah’s prophecy of “the acceptable day of the Lord,” a prophecy about the Year of Jubilee, the redeemed are “called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified ... For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all nations” (61:2, 3, 11). The fruits of the Spirit, the gracious influence of the saints with Christ, will be a steady healing influence in the lives of the nations.

And the beautiful symbolism of Ezekiel 47 describes the stream of cleansing truth[86] which pours forth from the altar, the throne of God,[87] as an ever widening, ever deepening stream. Yet there are those who believe that this divine stream suddenly dries up as Christ’s reign draws to its close! But the Hebrew word for “river” (47:5) altogether prohibits such an idea.


As is right and fitting, this gracious vision of God’s wonderful world of tomorrow ends with a further picture of the greatest blessing the immortal saints can know: “the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him (Gk: as priests in a sanctuary): and they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads”. Every phrase here is appropriate to a High Priest ministering in the Holy of Holies. Yet this is not a description of the High Priest ministering in the Holy of Holies, but of others who are now exalted to share his high honour. God is enthroned above the cherubim and the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat. Before Him is not one High Priest but many who are now exalted to share the highest privilege of all. In the Mosaic order the high priest must be always wrapped in a dense cloud of incense when entering the Holy of Holies, “that he die not” (Leviticus 16:12, 13). But these with open face - and not in a mirror - behold the glory of the Lord, because they have themselves been changed from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). Moses, pleading for reassurance by the sight of God’s face, was hidden in the cleft of a rock and permitted to see His back, the departing glory of the Law. But these minister unafraid, seeing the very face of God and revelling in a fulness of divine fellowship. What formerly was the unique privilege of the High Priest, to wear the resplendent name of God on his forehead - “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36) - is now the royal priestly honour of them all.

“There shall be no night there” in this Holy of Holies. In the tabernacle and temple it was not so. Except when there came a dim glow from red-hot coals in the high priest’s censer and except for the brief moments on the Day of Atonement when the Shekinah Glory of God shone forth, the Holy of Holies was normally in complete darkness. It had no light of the sun, nor of the seven-branched candlestick. But in this wondrous city-temple the effulgent Glory of God will be ever present, and His immortal saints, neither abashed nor ashamed, will glory in their eternal redemption and blessedness.

[84] A Euphrates which dried up! 16:12.
[85] 'Then why no single allusion to Gentiles or Gentile resources in Ezekiel 40-48?
[86] Septuagint Version: “waters of remission,” i.e. forgiveness.
[87] The idea of the mercy seat equates these two details, which would otherwise be contradictory; Ezekiel 47:1; Revelation 22:1.
Previous Index Next