|By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2003|
|Who is John’s angelic guide mentioned in Rev. 21:9-10? What will the Holy City be like? Dr. Thomas tells us from Revelation 21:11-21.|
The Seventh Bowl: Part Two of Intercalation #2, Physical Features of the Holy City
In last month’s column we introduced Intercalation #2 (Rev. 21:9–22:5), a description of the holy city Jerusalem, and the evident contrasts between the descriptions of the holy city and of the city found in Intercalation #1, the godless city Babylon. Intercalation #2 constitutes the concluding part of the seventh-bowl judgment. Even though it itemizes the beauty and glory of the future eternal state in the presence of the Father and the Lamb, the section also furnishes sad glimpses of those who fail to enter the new Jerusalem because of failure to repent of their wickedness and turn to God through trust in His Son. Those glimpses furnish insight into further judgmental elements of the seventh bowl.
This month we will examine Revelation 21:9-21, and will do so under two headings: the angel guide (21:9-10) and the physical features of the city (21:11-21).
The Angel Guide (21:9-10)
In setting the stage for a rather full description of the holy city, the text of Revelation gives most prominence to the angel who guides John on his tour. The introduction of this angelic guide as “one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, which were full of the seven last plagues” (21:9) is close enough to that of the angelic guide in Revelation 17:1 to show an intended parallelism between the vision begun there and the one begun here. The unmistakably clear point is that a person cannot inhabit both the worldly city Babylon and the heavenly city Jerusalem. The angel’s connection with the seven bowls and the seven last plagues indicates that a description of the seventh-bowl judgment is still in progress. Though this is not necessarily the same angel who guided John in 17:1, it possibly could be.
The angel’s invitation to come and see “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” picks up the brief announcement of the bride’s arrival in 21:2. Just as 17:1–19:10 is a working out in detail an earlier announcement of Babylon’s fall in 16:19, the section introduced here develops the simile of “a bride adorned for her husband” in 21:2.
Though some have construed the description begun here as a further word about the millennial kingdom, the contextual factor assigning 21:1-5 to a stage following the millennium is too strong to support that possibility. The chronological sequence in 19:11–22:5 requires that this be a description of the new creation already mentioned in 21:1. Features of the city in 21:2 match the description in 21:9, further identifying the section to follow with the city mentioned earlier.
The bride in 21:9 stands in conspicuous contrast with the harlot of 17:1. The marriage of the Lamb is about to take place as evidenced by the seven mentions of the Lamb in the next twenty-four verses.
Similar to his transport in 17:3, the angel carries John away “in the spirit” to a great and high mountain (21:10a). This time he shows him “the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” (21:10b), the city about to receive a lengthy characterization in a nearer and clearer vision (21:11–22:5).
The Physical Features of the City (21:11–21)
The first part of the description relates to the appearance, structures, dimensions, and construction materials of the city. First, John describes the city’s radiant glow: “having the glory of God; her brilliance was like a very precious stone, as a crystal-clear jasper stone” (21:11). “The glory of God” is the radiance of the dazzling splendor of God as seen often in Scripture (for example, Exod. 40:34; Acts 26:13). This is the most striking feature of the city because it represents the splendor of the presence of God Himself in the city.
The scope of our discussion will not allow us to examine each detail of the city’s description, but a few general comments about the way John describes the city are in order. The dimensions and layout design of the Jerusalem descending from heaven are an accommodation to finite minds, meaning that a complete comprehension of the new creation is not the expected result. That new heaven and new earth will exceed human understanding because it will be the handiwork of an infinite God (21:5). It will be beyond what any person has ever experienced. Yet the information conveys a picture designed for finite minds of this existence and so should not be written off as exclusively symbolic. It does give architectural information about the city, and is not merely theologically symbolic of the fulfillment of all God’s promises. She is a real city with a material existence, arguments to the contrary notwithstanding. To hold that there never will be a literal city such as this flies in the face of the language of the text.
That is not to say that the tangible aspects of the city’s architecture are without symbolic meaning. The abstractions embodied in the physical features of the city are strikingly clear. John has conveyed what he saw as far as words can do so. His visional experience has taken him where his readers cannot go. He actually saw what he describes accurately under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, though some of the details—for example, the gold that differs from anything on this present earth (21:18, 21)—are beyond present human comprehension. Because the nature of the city stretches human understanding to its limits and beyond, the wiser course is to accept the details of the description at their face value as corresponding to the physical characteristics attributed to the city. Human words describe the indescribable and the unimaginable. The materialistic nature of the new creation is unquestionable, but the physical transformation of the world is not the primary focus. The imagery is concrete and spatial, but it has spiritual significance. Since the corresponding city Babylon will have a material existence, so must the new Jerusalem. This is not merely an ideal and fantastic city, but a true, real, substantial, and eternal one. The presence of saints in her does not exclude her having foundations, walls, gates, streets, and edifices that make her a city. In 22:3-5 the slaves of God inhabit the city as entities separate from the city itself, so the city cannot be merely symbolic of God’s redeemed and resurrected people.
With this understanding in mind, we read, “She had a great and high wall; she had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and inscribed names which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel; from the east were three gates and from the north were three gates, and from the south were three gates and from the west were three gates; and the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and upon them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And the one who spoke with me had a golden measuring rod that he might measure the city, even her gates and her wall. And the city lay foursquare, and her length was like her width also. And he measured the city with the rod to the extent of twelve thousand stadia; her length and width and height are equal. And he measured her wall, one hundred forty-four cubits, the measure of a man, which is that of an angel. And the material of her wall was jasper, and the city was pure gold like pure glass. The foundations of the city were adorned with every 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 jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was [made] from one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass” (21:12-21).
The city will have walls, gates, foundations, streets, and other features comparable to the cities of the present creation. It will have the same directional orientation—east, north, south, and west. Israel will retain her distinct role as a nation in this eternal city (21:12) as will the church whose foundation was laid by the twelve apostles (21:14). But as noted at the outset of the description, the focal point will be the glory of God Himself (21:11).
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). Achieving entrance into the future new creation, the holy city Jerusalem, is a challenge for the present, not a challenge for the future. Union with Christ through faith in His finished work on the cross while a part of the old creation is the only means of access to the future new creation. It produces a personal relationship that is precious now, but one that will be even more precious when the new heavens and the new earth become a reality. With such an enticing hope in view, how can anyone turn away from forgiveness of sins through trusting Jesus Christ?
Note: For more details about the symbolic meaning of the physical features of the new Jerusalem, see my discussion in Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 459-474. To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or www.gbibooks.com.