Commentary on Revelation 21:9-27

Notes (NET Translation)

9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven final plagues came and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb!”

The seven bowl plagues were unleashed in ch. 16. The similar wording between 17:1 and 21:9 prompts the reader to make a connection between the two passages. First, the angel of 21:9 is probably the same angel as in 17:1. Second, we are to contrast the new Jerusalem with Babylon, whose description and judgment is given in ch. 17. On a literal level it does not make sense to call the church both the bride and the wife of the Lamb (cf. 19:6-8). But the term bride alludes to the church’s purity and loveliness while the term wife alludes to the intimacy between the church and the Lamb. Wondering about when the marriage takes place is to miss the metaphors.

10 So he took me away in the Spirit to a huge, majestic mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.

It is reiterated that John is in the Spirit, i.e., having a visionary experience (1:10; 4:2; 17:3).  The mountain is an ideal vantage point from which to see the new Jerusalem descend. It may also be that the new Jerusalem would be placed on this mountain.

11 The city possesses the glory of God; its brilliance is like a precious jewel, like a stone of crystal-clear jasper.

The glory of God is the presence of God, the Shekinah (cf. Ex. 24:15-16; 40:34-35; 1 Kgs 8:10-12; Isa. 6:1-4; 58:8; 60:1-2, 19; Ezek. 43:5). The comparisons are meant to highlight the radiance, brilliance, and sparkle of the city. The translation “crystal-clear” should probably be replaced with “shining like crystal.”

12 It has a massive, high wall with twelve gates, with twelve angels at the gates, and the names of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel are written on the gates. 13 There are three gates on the east side, three gates on the north side, three gates on the south side and three gates on the west side.

The wall is part of the description of an ideal city in the ancient world. This wall is made of jasper (21:18) to radiate the glory of God, not to protect the city. The twelve angels are ideal gatekeepers and watchmen. Perhaps these angels, somewhat like the angels of the churches in chs. 2-3, represent the new relationship between God and his people. The twelve gates symbolize abundant entrance (Ezek. 48:30-35). That they have the names of the tribes of Israel written on them symbolizes the continuity of the NT church with OT Israel.

14 The wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The twelve apostles are the group on which the church is built (cf. Eph. 2:20). Again we see the unity of ancient Israel with the NT church.

This similarity with Ephesians’ appeal to a foundational generation of apostles and prophets has often been used in favour of the late dating of Revelation, and against apostolic authorship. Such a statement, it is claimed, could not have been uttered by one who is among the twelve apostles so inscribed. This would not be simply due to apostolic modesty, but to the sense that such a phrase looks backwards to an earlier foundational age, now in the past. Yet this objection is somewhat blunted if one takes seriously the nature of Revelation as a visionary text: visionaries and dreamers are able to witness themselves, in a somewhat detached manner, as active participants in what they see. Moreover, it is likely that already by the middle of the first century members of the Twelve came to regard themselves as ‘pillars’ in the new eschatological temple (Gal. 2:9); it is but a small step from this self-understanding to a claim to be foundation stones of a new temple-city. (Boxall 303)

While Ian Boxall makes valid points, it should be stressed that this verse focuses on what the twelve apostles represent and not on the individuals who make up the twelve apostles.

15 The angel who spoke to me had a golden measuring rod with which to measure the city and its foundation stones and wall.

The measuring in ch. 11 ensured the spiritual protection of the saints. The measuring in ch. 21 highlights the enormous size and perfect symmetry of the new Jerusalem.

16 Now the city is laid out as a square, its length and width the same. He measured the city with the measuring rod at fourteen hundred miles (its length and width and height are equal).

The city is described as a cube measuring 12,000 stadia per side. This verse recalls the cubic dimensions of the inner sanctuary of the temple (1 Kgs 6:20). Just as the holy of holies was the dwelling place of God so will the new Jerusalem be the dwelling place of God. The number 12,000 may symbolize immensity, perfection, and splendor. Twelve thousand stadia is about the length of the Roman Empire from Joppa in Spain to the Euphrates and could therefore also indicate that the redeemed come from all over the world.

17 He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits according to human measurement, which is also the angel’s.

It is not clear whether this is the thickness or height of the wall. The number 144 symbolizes the whole people of God (7:4; 14:1, 3).

18 The city’s wall is made of jasper and the city is pure gold, like transparent glass.

In this verse the wall is said to be made of jasper but in the next verse it is said that the first foundation is decorated with jasper. This leads R. H. Mounce to opine that this verse intends to say the wall is decorated with jasper inlay but is not entirely built out of jasper. Earthly gold is not like transparent glass.

19 The foundations of the city’s wall are decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation is 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, and the twelfth amethyst.

The twelve stones correspond generally to the twelve gems set into the breastplate of the high priest, 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. The order of the stones and the significance of each has been the subject of an extended, yet rather fruitless, debate. (Mounce loc. 7162-7165)

The precise identification of the stones is uncertain in places but the point is that the city is magnificent beyond description.

21 And the twelve gates are twelve pearls – each one of the gates is made from just one pearl! The main street of the city is pure gold, like transparent glass.

Pearls were incredibly valuable in the ancient world (cf. Matt. 13:45-46). The pearl gates symbolize the great value of the twelve tribes (21:12-13) in the eyes of God.

22 Now I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God – the All-Powerful – and the Lamb are its temple.

The Jerusalem temple was a place of God’s presence. In the new Jerusalem God’s presence permeates everything so there is no need for a material temple.

23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God lights it up, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Verse 23 alludes to Isa. 60:19. As with everything in this book the language is figurative, not literal. There may or may not be a sun and moon in the new creation. The point of this verse is that God’s glory is incomparable with anything else and is sufficient to the make the city (= the saints) resplendent.

24 The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their grandeur into it.

The kings of the earth bring their glory (grandeur in the NET) into the new Jerusalem. They are not bringing literal riches but rather themselves as worshipers (4:9, 11; 5:12-13). Whatever glory they possessed on earth they give back to the one alone who deserves it.

The big question concerning 21:24-27 (and 22:2, 15) is what to make of the people apparently outside the new Jerusalem after the final judgment. The nations and the kings of the earth have been linked with Babylon and the monster (6:15; 11:2, 9, 18; 14:8; 16:14, 16, 19; 17:2, 15, 18; 18:3, 9, 23; 19:15, 19; 20:3, 8). The kings of the earth were killed (19:21) and presumably, along with the sinful among the nations, thrown into the lake of fire (20:15; 21:8). Since the redeemed are, or live in, the new Jerusalem, those outside the city walls bringing in glory and honor must be those damned at the final judgment. On this view, at least some of the damned repent after death and enter the new Jerusalem. Universal salvation is a possibility.

But the above view might be too literal on the chronological level. Another option is to see in these verses the fact that the people of God are composed of people of every nation (Isa. 60:3, 5, 11; Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 14:6-7; 15:4). The verses don’t intend to say some people will repent after death (they don’t address the issue). They are another image, drawing on Isa. 60, to illustrate that people throughout the world have been saved throughout history (i.e., before the final judgment).

25 Its gates will never be closed during the day (and there will be no night there).

In antiquity, city gates provided protection and were closed at night to keep unwanted visitors out (cf. Isa. 60:11). With evil eliminated there is no need for security measures.

26 They will bring the grandeur and the wealth of the nations into it, 27 but nothing ritually unclean will ever enter into it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or practices falsehood, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Verse 26 could be translated with the phrase “glory and honor” in place of “grandeur and the wealth”. As in v. 24, we are to take it that the kings of the nations are bringing worship to God.

Verse 27 indicates that the new Jerusalem is pure and holy. Only those who let Jesus in (3:20) and wash their robes (22:14) are permitted in the new Jerusalem. Uncleanliness has been associated with the empire of the beast (16:13; 17:4; 18:2). What is detestable (or an abomination) has been associated with the prostitute of 17:4-5. Falsehood has been associated with Jews persecuting the church (3:9) and the false prophet (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). The book of life is specifically the Lamb’s book because his death brought eternal life.

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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