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 scene with the tree of life (22:2) and the river of water of life (22:1) recalls the scene in the garden of Eden. It is like a paradise regained (Milton’s famous long poem). The glorious new heaven and new earth probably cannot be fully described with the limits of human vocabulary. The mystery of God dwelling among His people is difficult to imagine.
The absence of the sea has many explanations. In ancient thought, the sea a symbol of changefulness. It represents unpredictability and lack of permanency. It is a place of storms and danger. Isaiah compares the wicked to the tossing sea that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt (Isa 57:20). 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. Another author even says that, “Revelation as a whole may be characterized as A Tale of Two Cities, with the sub-title, The Harlot and the Bride.”
The New Jerusalem can be understood as a symbol of the universal church in its perfected and eternal state. However, it is also an actual city described in the next paragraph (vv.9-27). It is described as the Holy City because it is the dwelling place of God who makes it holy and of heavenly origin.
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: “I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will…be your God, and you will be my people.” (cf. Jer 31:33; Eze 37:27; Zec 8:8)
The Greek is “the tabernacle of God is with men.” In the wilderness wanderings, the tabernacle or tent was a symbol of the abiding presence of God in the midst of His people. John describes that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among people (Jn 1:14). This time, the dwelling of God with His people is for eternity. 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!” This is the fulfilment of Isa 65:17: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”
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. This declaration is similar to Christ’s declaration on the cross: “It is finished!” The first one declares the descent of the kingdom of God de jure; this present one declares the descent of the kingdom of God de facto.
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). As explained in the notes for Rev 1:8, the phrase implies the inclusion of all letters in between, indicating God as the sovereign Lord over everything, from the beginning to the end.
The Bible often employs the figure of thirst to depict the desire of the soul for God (Ps 42:1; Isa 55:1). God is a spring of living water (Jer 2:13) that assuages thirst and wells up into eternal life (Jn 4:14). In the arid climate of Palestine, a spring of cool water is a vivid symbol of refreshment and satisfaction.
21:7 In the letters to the 7 churches, the overcomers will:  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). All this is the inheritance of those who stand firm to the end (Mt 24:13). More important than the inheritance, God will be a Father to all His people.
21:8 Immediately after the pronouncement of the rich inheritance is a warning to 8 classes of sinners. This warning is likely issued to Christians who will be reading this book. The first two classes are specifically for those Christians who become weak in the midst of persecution and retract their obedience to their Lord. The remaining classes can refer to corrupted Christians as well as to pagans.
The 8 classes of sinners include:  cowardly: those who choose personal safety over faithfulness to Christ, NOT just those who fear persecution.  unbelieving: without faith, believers who have denied and renounced their faith under pressure.  vile (depraved): those who joined in the detestable and unholy ritual of emperor worship.  murderer: probably those who commit murder under the tyranny of the beast.  sexually immoral: originally referring to male prostitute, but in NT times referring to all kinds of sexual sins which constitute 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 which John emphasizes in this book. All these people will face second death.
21:9 The angel is almost certainly the one who in 17:1 summoned John to witness the judgment of the great prostitute. The contrast of New Jerusalem to Babylon is clear as there are similarities between the two passages (compare 17:1 to 21:9; and 17:3 to 21:10). One is pure and beautiful and the other is wild and evil.
21:10 Vv.10-14 in the Greek text comprise one compound sentence, indicating the overjoyed state of John. The angel carried John to a great, high mountain to watch the descent of New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. John is in the Spirit meaning in great spiritual exaltation. Many times in the Bible, mountains become the location of great spiritual experience, such as Moses on Mt. Sinai, Ezekiel’s great vision of the restored temple and land was given to him on a very high mountain (Eze 40:1-2), transfiguration of Jesus, ascension of Jesus on the Mount of Olives (Ac 1:12).
The city coming down from heaven symbolizes it as a gift from God. It is a repetition of v.2. However, the description in v.2 appears to be a representation of the Church, the city described below is an actual city with physical dimensions. The New Jerusalem is both a city created by God, the abode for the Church, and the bride of the Lamb.
21:11 The city glitters with a shimmering radiance that manifests the presence and glory of God. The Greek word for brilliance is phoster which can mean a light-giving body or spendour or radiance. The radiance is like a glittering gem. In antiquity, jasper was used for any opaque precious stone; here, however, it is described to be clear as crystal and could be referring to a diamond.
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. The names of the 12 tribes of Israel emphasizes the continuity of the NT church with God’s people of OT times.
21:13 There are 3 gates in each direction in the order of east, north, south, west (different from Eze 20, which follows the conventional north, east, south, west). One suggestion is that John chooses the most erratic order to discourage any interest his readers might have in the “zodiacal cycle”.
21:14 The household of God is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20). The inclusion of the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles shows the unity of ancient Israel and the NT church.
21:15 The angel uses a staff of gold to measure the city. The measuring in ch.11 was to ensure protection (or maybe for judgment); here it serves to portray the enormous size and perfect symmetry of the eternal dwelling place of the faithful.
21:16 The city is in the shape of a cube whose length, breadth, and height are all equal. The Greek word used is used for huge rocks in the shape of a cube. This particular shape would immediately remind the Jewish reader of the inner sanctuary of the temple which is also a perfect cube, each dimension being 20 cubits (10 yards, 1Ki 6:20). Both are the place of divine presence.
Each side of the city is 12,000 stadia. Each stadia is about 607 feet; thus the city would be about 1,400 miles (2240 km) in each direction, approximately 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). It is not sure whether this is the height or the thickness of the wall. The cubit is specified as “by man’s measurement” and is roughly the length of a man’s firearm, from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow, or about 18 inches or 45 cm. The number of 12 times 12 is again a symbol for perfection.
21:18 The wall is made of jasper, again emphasizing the splendour. The city is made of pure gold. Since gold is opaque, it cannot be transparent like glass. 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. It is not clear whether the foundations are to be understood as the segments between the 12 gates or as 12 layers built upon each other and extending all around the 4 sides of the city.
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.
John’s list omits 4 included in the Septuagint (Greek OT) and includes 4 other stones. However, this difference may be accounted for by the uncertainties of translation so that the Septuagint translation of the original Hebrew OT is partly inaccurate.
Precious stones are desirable for their beauty and scarcity. The various stones mentioned in the Bible are hard to identify with any exactness because of the many different species and colours as well as the lack of a standard terminology.
The 12 precious stones or jewels are:  jasper: a translucent rock crystal green in colour.  sapphire: a deep blue transparent stone with spangles of iron pyrite.  chalcedony: a green silicate (quartz) of copper found near Chalcedon in Asia Minor.  emerald: a green stone.  sardonyx: a layered stone of red (sard) and white (onyx), perhaps a variety of agate.  carnelian: a blood-red stone.  chrysolite: a yellow topaz or golden jasper.  beryl: a sea-green stone.  topaz: a red stone or a yellow rock crystal.  chrysoprase: a apple greenish or yellow stone.  jacinth: a bluish-purple stone similar to the modern sapphire.  amethyst: a transparent purple quartz. With such jewels, the city is magnificent beyond imagination.
If the jewels are placed in the order of the gates in v.13, then the sequence will correspond in reverse order to the signs of the zodiac. Possibly, it indicates a new order of things, or, it is used to stress that the holy city has nothing to do with old astrological belief, possibly implying that God reverses human judgments.
21:21 Each of the 12 gates is made of a single pearl, a very valuable commodity. Jesus spoke of a merchant selling all he possessed in order to purchase a pearl. The great street (or streets) is made of gold, again shining so brilliantly like glass.
21:22 There is no temple in New Jerusalem. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that the day would come when worship of God would no longer be geographically restricted (Jn 4:21). Paul says that the believing congregation was in fact the temple of the living God (1Co 3:16-17; 2Co 6:16; Eph 2:21-22). Here, 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” (sometimes translated “the Gentiles”) 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). They will walk by the light of God’s glory. Those who are prominent will bring their splendour and glory into the city. [Some think that since God’s people live inside the city, “nations” outside must be a different group. However, no matter how enormous in size the city is, God’s people are hardly expected to stay within the city all the time. The whole universe is for God’s people to explore!]
Some people wrongly interpet this as a verse supporting universal salvation. Others wrongly doubt the accuracy of the verse.
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 because darkness never comes.
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 enter the city are not impure (with sins), wicked (abominable, probably referring to idolatry), or deceitful (with lies, against truth) but those whose names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Of course, in eternal life, there will be no one left with these sins. The verse functions like v.8, a warning to those who abandon their faith.
The name “Lamb’s Book of Life” is slightly different from “Book of Life” in the rest of Revelation (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15). It simply emphasizes:  salvation depends on what Christ has done, and  the book belongs to the Lamb (Rev 13:8).
† The eternal New Jerusalem, described in Rev 21:1-22:5, is something that each Christian should 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)
† Even in the midst of the description of unimaginable magnificence, there are warnings (vv.8,27) to those who put personal safety and comfort (such as avoiding persecutions) above loyalty to God. These warnings are also for us.