The physical dimensions and shape of “New Jerusalem” are presented to show it is ready to be populated – Revelation 21:9-23.
John caught a glimpse of “New Jerusalem descending from heaven,” but now, he sees it unveiled in all its glory. This next section concentrates on the city’s physical dimensions and shape. Its enormous size staggers the human imagination, but sufficient room is necessary to contain the innumerable multitude destined to inhabit the “holy city.”
The size of the “city” prepares the reader for the description of its inhabitants. “New Jerusalem” will be occupied by the “innumerable multitude” redeemed by the “Lamb,” and not by a tiny remnant of faithful martyrs who barely escape from the clutches of the “Dragon.”
The vision employs language and imagery from the “Tabernacle” in the Exodus story, and from Ezekiel’s vision of the ideal city and Temple (Ezekiel chapters 40-48). The background links “New Jerusalem” to the covenant people of God. The “holy city” is not the reconstituted city of Old Jerusalem, but the fulfillment of all that was foreshadowed in the history of Israel.
Under the old system, the presence of God dwelt in the “Tabernacle,” which limited the extent and visibility of His glory. But in “New Jerusalem,” that image is transformed. His glory will fill the entire creation without any restrictions.
BRIDE OF THE LAMB. John was “carried away” by one of the seven angels that delivered the “seven bowls of wrath,” just as occurred in the vision of the “Great Harlot.” The two visions contrast the “bride,” “New Jerusalem,” with the “Great Harlot, the city of Babylon.”
- Revelation 21:9-14) – “And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls that were full of the seven last plagues, and spoke with me, saying: Hither! I will point out the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the spirit to a mountain great and high, and pointed out to me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her luster like a stone most precious, as a jasper stone shining as crystal; having a wall great and high, having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names inscribed, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, on the east three gates, and on the north, three gates, and on the south, three gates, and on the west, three gates; and the wall of the city having twelve foundations, and upon them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
Previously, John was “carried away” to the “wilderness” to see “Babylon.” Here, he is carried to a “mountain great and high,” and there he saw the “Bride of the Lamb,” which is identified as the “holy city, New Jerusalem.” The image echoes Ezekiel’s lengthy description of an idealized city and Temple.
- (Ezekiel 40:1-4) – “…In the visions, God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me down upon a very high mountain, whereon was as it were the frame of a city on the south…”
The “wilderness” echoes the story of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, and in Revelation, it corresponds to the “earth” in its fallen state. The church is the pilgrim people protected by God but harassed by malevolent forces. Thus, John saw the persecuting power of end-time “Babylon” pursing the saints in the “wilderness” – (Revelation 12:6, 12:14).
Likewise, the “great and high mountain” corresponds to “Mount Zion,” where previously the “Lamb stood” with the 144,000 saints who were “redeemed from the earth.” In contrast, when the “Lamb” appears on the “day of their wrath,” all other “mountains” will “flee” from his presence – (Revelation 6:12-17, 14:1, 16:20).
“Her light was like a precious stone, a jasper stone clear as crystal.” The description links the city and its “glory” to the “throne” from the vision when the “Lamb” received the “sealed scroll from the one who sits on” it – (“He that sat was to look upon like a jasper stone and a sardius”). The point is not the kind of materials or the color of the stones from which the “city” is constructed, but instead, that it reflects the glory of the one who sits on the “throne” – (Ezekiel 28:13, Revelation 4:2-3).
“The names of the twelve tribes of Israel,” another link to Ezekiel’s vision where the gates were named after the twelve tribes of Israel – (Ezekiel 48:31-34 – “The gates of the city shall be after the names of the tribes of Israel”).
“Twelve foundations and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” What is portrayed is NOT a reconstituted nation of Israel. The office of “apostle” was specific to the ministry of Jesus, hence, the “twelve apostles of the Lamb,” which can only refer to the twelve disciples who established the early church. The designation also indicates that true apostles follow the “Lamb wherever he goes” and emulate the “faithful witness” of Jesus.
THE SHAPE OF THE CITY.
- Revelation 21:15-21) – “And he that was talking with me had for a measure a reed of gold, that he might measure the city and the gates thereof and the wall thereof. And the city lies four-square, and the length thereof is as great as the breadth. And he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs: the length and the breadth and the height thereof are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, a hundred and forty-four cubits: the measure of a man, which is the measure of an angel. And the structure of the wall thereof was jasper, and the city was pure gold, like pure glass. The foundations of the wall of the city with every precious stone were adorned: 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 hyacinth, the twelfth amethyst; and the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each one of the gates, severally, was of one pearl; and the street of the city was pure gold, as transparent glass.”
“A golden reed to measure the city” recalls the vision of the “reed” given to John to measure the sanctuary. The city is measured to establish its physical limits in preparation for its habitation. The massive dimensions are designed to house the innumerable multitude of redeemed men and women – (Ezekiel 40:2-5, 48:8-35).
“The city lies foursquare.” The dimensions are multiples of four and twelve, numbers that symbolize the people of God (e.g., the “twelve tribes of Israel”). The 144 cubits recall the company of the 144,000 males from the twelve tribes of Israel that were “sealed” for service to God – (Revelation 7:1-8, 14:1-4).
The altars of incense and burnt offering used in the ancient Tabernacle were “foursquare” and constructed of “shittim wood.” So, also, the “ephod” or breastplate worn by the high priest was “foursquare.” “New Jerusalem” is also “foursquare,” but it is constructed from gold and precious gems to stress its glory and permanence. “Foursquare” stresses universality, as in the “four living creatures,” the “four corners” and the “four winds” of the earth – (Exodus 37:25, 39:9, 1 Kings 7:31, Ezekiel 40:47, 48:20, Revelation 4:6, 7:1-3, 20:8-10).
The physical dimensions are massive. Twelve thousand “stadia” is approximately fifteen hundred miles long (twenty-four hundred kilometers), wide, and high. The proportions would be nearly impossible to build on the earth. Here, effectively, the boundaries of the “holy city” are coterminous with the New Earth.
“The foundations of the wall were adorned with every precious stone.” The twelve stones correspond to the gems that were displayed on the breastplate of the high priest when he performed his priestly duties. This is another symbol that points to the new people of God. The imagery also indicates the city is now the “tabernacle” of God, where His presence dwells – (Exodus 28:17-20, 39:10).
NO “SANCTUARY”. “I saw no temple for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the temple.” Revelation has not abandoned the biblical ideal of the perfect temple; however, the entire “city” is now the “sanctuary of God.”
- (Revelation 21:22-23) – “And sanctuary saw I none therein; for the Lord God, the Almighty is the sanctuary thereof and the Lamb. And the city has no need of the sun nor of the moon, that they should shine therein; for the glory of God illumined it and the lamp thereof was the Lamb.”
In Revelation, the sun and moon are parts of the old order that are affected by God’s judgments; for example, the sun became “black as sackcloth” and the moon “became as blood” on the “Day of the Lord.” With “New Jerusalem” now filled with His glory, no longer is there any need for the sun, moon, or stars to provide illumination. Instead, the city is illuminated by the “glory of God,” and because the “Lamb” is the “lamp” in the city.
There is no knowledge or glory of God apart from Jesus, and it is in his role as the “slain Lamb” that he has achieved all of this. Ever since the vision of the “sealed scroll” and the “throne,” Jesus has been identified as the “Lamb,” and so he will remain in the city of “New Jerusalem.”