Part 10. The new heaven and the new earth (21:1—22:21)
10.1. The new creation (21:1-8)
10.2. The new Jerusalem (21:9-27)
† PICTURE: A new heaven and a new earth appear. From a high mountain, John sees the descent of New Jerusalem from heaven. It is a gigantic cube with indescribable splendour. This is the eternal dwelling place of God’s children.
21:1 The tree of life (22:2) and the river of water of life (22:1) recalls the garden of Eden.
In ancient thought, the sea represents unpredictability and lack of permanency. It is a place of storms and danger. For John, it was a source of evil as the beast (antichrist) came out of the sea.
21:2 The New Jerusalem is a contrast to Babylon. It is the city of God in contrast to the city of man, as described in Augustine’s City of God.
The New Jerusalem can be understood as a symbol of the universal church in its perfected state. It is also an actual city described in the next paragraph (vv.9-27).
21:3 The voice from the throne (like in 19:5) refers to God as a third person so it is probably from one of the angels around the throne. It announces the fulfilment of Lev 26:11-12.
The Greek is “the tabernacle of God is with men,” a symbol of the abiding presence of God in the midst of His people. The plural “peoples” reminds the reader about the many peoples (different races and nationalities) of the redeemed humanity.
21:4 Abolished forever are the debilitating effects of sin. Death, mourning, crying, and pain are all part of the “old order of things” that has now passed away.
21:5 While great events have happened in heaven and on earth, God has stayed almost completely silent. [Only in Rev 1:8 was a clear saying of God. In addition, Rev 16:1,17 are likely God’s speech.] Now, when everything finally came to an end, God declares the happy conclusion of His design for the universe: “I am making everything new!” (see Isa 65:17)
In Rev 1:19, the glorified Christ instructed John to write. Now, God instructs John to write. This is an authentication of the truthfulness of what has been written.
21:6 “It is done!” from God assures the certainty of the eternal joy and happiness for all His people. God is the Beginning (first Greek letter Alpha) because He is the source and origin of all things. He is the End (last Greek letter Omega) because He constitutes the goal and aim of all things (1Ti 1:5; Ro 10:4). The phrase also implies the inclusion of all letters in between, indicating God as the sovereign Lord over everything, from the beginning to the end (see Rev 1:8).
God is a spring of living water (Jer 2:13) that assuages thirst and wells up into eternal life (Jn 4:14).
21:7 In the letters to the 7 churches, the overcomers will have the inheritance of:  eat from the tree of life (2:7),  not be hurt by the second death (2:11),  be given hidden manna and a white stone (2:17),  receive authority over the nations (2:26),  not have their names blotted from the book of life (3:5),  be a pillar in the temple of God (3:12), and  sit with Christ on His throne (3:21). Even more important, God will be a Father to all His people.
21:8 This warning to 8 classes of sinners is likely issued to Christians as the first two classes are specifically for those Christians who become weak in the midst of persecution.
The sinners include:  cowardly: those who choose personal safety over faithfulness to Christ.  unbelieving: believers who have denied their faith under pressure.  vile: those who joined in the detestable ritual of emperor worship.  murderer: probably those who commit murder under the tyranny of the beast.  sexually immoral: a major vice of paganism.  practise magic arts: those involved in the occult.  idolaters: worshipping false gods or man (secular humanism).  liars: opposite of telling truth. All these people will face second death.
21:9 The contrast of New Jerusalem to Babylon is clear (compare 17:1 to 21:9; and 17:3 to 21:10).
21:11 The city glitters with a shimmering radiance that manifests the presence and glory of God.
21:12 The city is surrounded by a great wall with 12 gates, and with one angel at each gate. The walls are not used for security but to give the city magnificent appearance.
21:14 The inclusion of the 12 tribes and 12 apostles shows the unity of ancient Israel and NT church.
21:16 The city is in the shape of a cube. This would remind the Jewish reader of the cubical inner sanctuary of the temple (1Ki 6:20). Both are the place of divine presence.
Each side of the city is 12,000 stadia, about 1,400 miles (2240 km), the distance between New York and Houston. The number 12,000 (12 times the cube of 10) symbolizes perfection.
21:17 The wall is found to have a dimension of 144 cubits (about 72 yards).
21:18 The city is made of pure gold. It is possible that the light reflecting on the gold is so brilliant that it looks like glass. It may also mean the purity of the gold is like transparent glass.
21:19 The foundations are adorned with precious stones, a different gem for each foundation.
21:20 The 12 stones correspond generally to the 12 gems set into the breastplate of the high priest (Ex 28:17-20), which suggests that the privileges reserved for the high priest alone under the old covenant are now freely given to the entire people of God.
21:21 Each of the 12 gates is made of a single pearl, a very valuable commodity. The great street (or streets) is made of gold, again shining so brilliantly like glass.
21:22 There is no temple in New Jerusalem. The everlasting presence of God makes the temple unnecessary. In contrast, Eze 40—46 describes in detail the rebuilt temple and its ordinances. It is believed that this temple will be the one existing in the millennium.
21:23 The city is illuminated by the glory of God so that no sun or moon is needed.
21:24 “The nations” refer to all those who are saved, that is, everyone in eternity. The term is used to illustrate the all-encompassing characteristics of God’s people (like “peoples” in v.3).
21:25 The gates of the city stand open (see Isa 60:11) because with the complete destruction of evil, security measures are no longer necessary. It is an everlasting daytime.
21:26 While the kings bring their glory and honour in v.24, here the nations bring glory and honour. This can mean:  they bring the choicest of treasures,  they render their homage.
21:27 Those who are not impure (with sins), wicked (abominable, probably referring to idolatry), or deceitful (with lies, against truth) cannot enter the city. Since there will be no one left with these sins. The verse functions like v.8, a warning to those who abandon their faith.
† The eternal New Jerusalem is for each Christian to look forward to. It is a reminder that we should not only look down at things in this present earthly life but remember to look up at things in the future eternal life. When our life is difficult, this is a good passage to read: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (21:4)