The brilliance with which the Holy City descends, and the building material cited later, reminds us once again that this City is something extraordinary, symbolizing something other than Johnís literal description. Its title, the bride, the wife of the Lamb leads us to the answer: the saints are the city in which God will dwell and which is now descending from heaven.
All that we read about the Holy City, its excellence, brilliance, and superior character, describe the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, having called, justified, sanctified, and glorified a people for God.† Johnís vision shows the bride of the Lamb as something extraordinary brilliant and excellent, which describes the churchís loveliness in the eyes of God.
The great wall that John sees in this vision of the new Holy City indicates that the city is like a stronghold, keeping all those who live in it safe.
The twelve gates allow access to the City to the twelve tribes of Israel. We have seen in Revelation chapter 7 that the twelve tribes of Israel symbolize the entire body of the elect, the invisible church. The twelve tribes are not listed here, so we must assume that the same twelve who are listed in Revelation 7 are referred to here.
Here we see the twelve gates, three on each side of the City, guarded by twelve angels, symbolizing the passage of the entire, pre-ordained, number of people whom God elected to enter the City.† In the book of life God wrote the complete and definitive roster of those who will enter into the City through these gates.
Isaiah 26:1, 2† In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts. 2Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.
Psalm 51:18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Psalm 122:7 May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.
Ezekiel 48:31-34 The gates of the city will be named after the tribes of Israel. The three gates on the north side will be the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah and the gate of Levi. 32"On the east side, which is 4,500 cubits long, will be three gates: the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin and the gate of Dan. 33"On the south side, which measures 4,500 cubits, will be three gates: the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar and the gate of Zebulun. 34"On the west side, which is 4,500 cubits long, will be three gates: the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher and the gate of Naphtali.
Acts 26:7 This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me.
The angels are guarding the gates symbolizing the protection that the inhabitants of the Holy City enjoy from God. We have seen right after the fall of our First Parents that God placed cherubim on the east side of the Garden of Eden to guard the tree of life from sinners. Now that the church has been sanctified, she may enter to the other side of the angelsí protective flaming swords, having passed over from the outside to the inside, now being the object of their protection.
Genesis 3:24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
We may rightly ask why would protection, walls, and gates be necessary if the wicked and Satan have been destroyed.† If we see the symbolism of the City in context, that it is the church and not a building, then we see the purpose of God fulfilled in these visions.
Godís purpose with creation is to gather for himself a people that will glorify him out of their own free will. Their free will sets them apart from the irrational creation, so the way in which God sanctifies his people, after having justified them through Christ, is through the furnace of affliction, his kindness and patience.† This refinement makes the saints stronger than what Adam and Eve were before the fall, now sufficiently honed by sanctification to withstand any temptation and sin. This completed sanctification is symbolized by the great wall, the angels, and the brilliance with which the City is shining before God.
Here are some passages that confirm this.
In the first seven verses of the Apostle Peterís first epistle speak about the process of Godís foreknowledge, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, Jesusí sacrifice, our inheritance in heaven, that we are shielded, our suffering now and the glory and honor.
I Peter 1:1-7† Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Once again, the connection between suffering (refinement) now and glory later.
I Peter 4:12† Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you, 13but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
God is patient, so that everyone could come to repentance.
II Peter 3:9, 15 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 15Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.
Romans 2:4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance.
I Timothy 1:16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
Psalm 86:15 But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
Isaiah 30:18 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him.
Habakkuk 2:3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.
We are tested and refined during Godís patience so that we may be brought to a place of abundance, wearing the crown of life.
Isaiah 48:10 See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
Revelation 3:18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Job 23:10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Psalm 66:10-12 For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. 11You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. 12You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.
Proverbs 17:3 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart.
Jeremiah 9:7† Therefore this is what the LORD Almighty says: "See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of the sin of my people."
Zechariah 13:9 This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'
Malachi 3:3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.
Matthew 19:28† Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Romans 5:3, 4 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope.
James 1:3, 4 Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:12† Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
John repeats here that there are three gates on each of the four sides of the City, although it is already apparent from the previous passage and also from the prophecies. It is as if John wants us to take note of the importance of the numbers in this vision: three gates and four sides. As we have seen earlier in this study, the number three symbolizes the Godhead, while the number four symbolized man. So, within the four sides of the City there are entrances for Godís people through his perfect grace and mercy. The four sides of the City look to all four directions of the compass, symbolizing that the elect will be gathered from all over the earth to enter through these gates.
The number twelve is also significant, being the unification, or reconciliation, of Godís people with himself. The twelve tribes, depicting the elect, reflects this reconciled union after Adam and Eve broke it to unite mankind with Satan instead. The four sides with three gates each also fulfill the enmity that God promised between the seed of the woman and the seed of Satan, causing that alliance to break and Godís people to be permanently separated from Satan and again built into unity with Christ.
It is truly an extraordinary and comforting vision that John describes to us.
Here John describes the foundation upon which all of Godís people rest. The twelve apostles who preached the Word of God laying the foundation of the church, the body of Christ; his bride. The names of the apostles are not given, which indicates to us that it is not the person that is important, but the object of the gospel, Jesus Christ, that is important. What they preached is the foundation of the church, not who preached. The absence of the names of the apostles further indicates that the symbolism is the important factor here pointing away from the servant towards the gospel.
Matthew 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
I Corinthians 3:10, 11† By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds, 11for no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Galatians 2:9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.
Hebrews 11:10 For [Abraham] was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
The measuring rod is of gold, to fit the occasion and to indicate that the measurements would be of the purest nature. The purpose of measuring the City, its gates and walls, is to subject it to scrutiny and judgment so that it can be ascertained that it conforms in all respects to the holy counsel of God; that it is perfect, holy and good.
Measuring the City at this time with a golden rod contrasts the measurements that John made in Revelation 11:
Revelation 11:1† I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, "Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there."
The two witnesses went out to preach the gospel and they had the power to produce fire from their mouths to devour their enemies if anyone should try to harm them. The fire of the gospel was then still at work protecting the spreading of the gospel, while here all that already went into fulfillment and the measurements here are made to confirm the perfection and compliance of what has been prophesied, foretold and foreshadowed.
To be sure that the vision John describes to us here is not an invention of the New Testament or even the apostle himself, we need to look at the prophecies whether this vision is in line with what God had purposed.
Zechariah 2:1† Then I looked up--and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand. 2I asked, "Where are you going?" He answered me, "To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is." 3Then the angel who was speaking to me left, and another angel came to meet him 4and said to him: "Run, tell that young man, 'Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it. 5And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,' declares the LORD, 'and I will be its glory within.'
The measurement given in this translation is 12,000 stadia, about 1,500 miles. It is unfortunate that some translations show the size in a unit of measure other than stadia, because the symbolic value of the original unit of measure is quite significant. The value of the symbolism is lost when translators illustrate the size of the City in a contemporary unit of measure, trying to give the modern reader a visual perspective of the physical size of Johnís vision.
Since the City is the bride of the Lamb, the church, which is all believers, imagining a structure 1,500 miles wide, long, and high is a distraction, not an illumination. The significance of the number 12,000 is very important, as we shall demonstrate.
Twelve thousand is one-twelfth of the number of the elect, 144,000.† There were twelve tribes of Israel with whom the covenant was made. There were twelve apostles who brought the gospel to the scattered people. That gives us the 144,000 members of the elect, symbolizing that the church progressed on her journey from the Old Testament through the time of Christ to this point in Johnís vision. The number twelve thousand in itself conforms to the numerology of Scripture, which is the number of the Trinity, 3 multiplied by the number of man, 4 indicated by the four points on the compass or the four wind directions. The number 1,000 again is the product of 103, which is the number of completeness raised to the power of the number of the Trinity. The number 10 is the number of the Trinity plus the number 7, which is the number of Godís perfect accomplishment.
The measurements of the Holy City, of which we will still read a lot more in this chapter, assure us of the perfect place that Christ prepared for us and that it would be of sufficient size and construction that the elect could perfectly dwell in it.
Matthew 25:34† "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world."
John 14:2, 3 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
So, to view the Holy City in terms of the symbols upon which she is based, make it clear that Johnís vision is perfectly in compliance with Godís prophets, covenants, the law and the Psalms.
Again, we see the symbolism in the enormity of the walls, which is 12 x 12. As strong as these walls appear, this is how strong Godís complete merciful work through the sacrifice of Christ is within us. It is impenetrable and a fortification against any sin; a warranty that we would not be able to sin.
Revelation 21:18-20 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald. 20The fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.
The City is built of the most precious material known to man, not to indicate physical material or value, but rather the value of the bride to the Lamb. The bride, who was washed clean by her Bridegroomís blood; who was sanctified and brought out from the cesspool of death, now decorated in glory and great splendor.
Isaiah 54:11-14 "O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. 12I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones. 13All your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children's peace. 14In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear. Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you.
Ezekiel 16:4-10 On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. 5No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. 6Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, "Live!"
7I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare. 8Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine. 9I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. 10I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. 11I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck 12and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head.
13So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen 14and your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD.
Aaronís breastplate and ephod foreshadowed the Holy City.
Exodus 28:15-21† "Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions--the work of a skilled craftsman. Make it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen. 16It is to be square--a span long and a span wide--and folded double. 17Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. In the first row there shall be a ruby, a topaz and a beryl. 18In the second row a turquoise, a sapphire and an emerald. 19In the third row a jacinth, an agate and an amethyst. 20In the fourth row a chrysolite, an onyx and a jasper. Mount them in gold filigree settings. 21There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.
And Godís instructions continue. What is significant here are the four rows, which point to the four walls of the city and each row containing three precious stones, pointing to the three gates in each wall. All together they represent the twelve tribes.
Verse 21 continues to describe the brilliance and glory of the temple.
John did not see a temple, because God and the Lamb are its temple. We see the phases of the temple in salvation history.† There was the early temple in which the priests had to make repeated sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people. There was a separation between the people and the holiest place in the temple, which the high priest could only enter once a year. The holiest place was separated from the common area by the curtain in the temple, preventing direct communion with God.
Then, after Christís sacrifice, there was no need for repeated sacrifices because Christís blood atoned for the sins of the elect once and for all. By that sacrifice we received direct communion with God through faith in Christ Jesus. The curtain in the temple tore in two when Christ died, opening up the holiest place, removing the constraint that prevented direct communion with God.
Here, in Johnís vision, we see that there is no temple because perfect and intimate communion with God has been established without the need of a temple, which previously symbolized a special place where communion with God was celebrated. In the Holy City communion with God is everywhere and all the time.
The following passages testify to this.
Luke 23:44-46† It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.
Numbers 18:2, 3 Bring your fellow Levites from your ancestral tribe to join you and assist you when you and your sons minister before the Tent of the Testimony. 3They are to be responsible to you and are to perform all the duties of the Tent, but they must not go near the furnishings of the sanctuary or the altar, or both they and you will die.
I Kings 6:16, 19 He partitioned off twenty cubits at the rear of the temple with cedar boards from floor to ceiling to form within the temple an inner sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. 19He prepared the inner sanctuary within the temple to set the ark of the covenant of the LORD there.
I Kings 8:6, 10, 21† The priests then brought the ark of the LORD'S covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. 10When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. 21I have provided a place there for the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD that he made with our fathers when he brought them out of Egypt.
Ezekiel 41:4 And he measured the length of the inner sanctuary; it was twenty cubits, and its width was twenty cubits across the end of the outer sanctuary. He said to me, "This is the Most Holy Place."
Even Solomon knew that a physical building could not contain God.
I Kings 8:27† But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built?
II Chronicles 2:6 But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him? Who then am I to build a temple for him, except as a place to burn sacrifices before him?
Isaiah 66:1† This is what the LORD says: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?"
Jesus made it clear that the Old Testament temple was a mere foreshadowing of his body.
John 2:19-21† Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." 20The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
The transformation of the temple sacrifices is best described by Scripture:
Hebrews 9:1-12† Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. 2A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. 3Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place. 4Which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now. 6When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.
8The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. 9This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings--external regulations applying until the time of the new order. 11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.
Hebrews 9:23-25† It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these, 24for Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.
Hebrews 10:19-22† Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.