Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.XXI.
THE NEW HEAVENS AND NEW EARTH.
(1) And I saw a new heaven . . .—The hope of the renewal and restitution of all things had been long cherished. Earlier prophets had sanctioned the hope: Isaiah had told of new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:17); Ezekiel had closed his prophecy with the splendid vision of a renewed land of promise (Ezekiel 40-48); Christ Himself had spoken of the era which He inaugurated as the regeneration (Matthew 19:28); His followers soon caught the truth that the outcome of the gospel age would be the realisation of all those marvellous visions with which prophets had sustained the fainting hopes of the people of God. The hope was not to be for ever receding as new height after height was surmounted. It will not always be said, “The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth” (Ezekiel 12:22). The fulfilment may seem to tarry; the unbelieving might doubt or scoff (Matthew 24:43; 1Thessalonians 5:2; 2Peter 3:4); but those who felt that the gospel was a power of spiritual regeneration, making all things new (2Corinthians 5:17), learned to look forward to the widest and fullest restoration, and to expect new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness (2Peter 3:13). The characteristic word which runs throughout the description is the word “new.” All things are to be made new: the heavens and earth are new; the Jerusalem is new. There are two words which are translated new in our English version: one of these (neos) relates to time; the other (kainos) relates to quality. The one would be applied to what had recently come into existence; the other to what showed fresh features. The tomb, for example, in which our Lord’s body was laid was new, not in the sense that it had been recently hewn out of the rock, but in the sense that it had never been used before; it may have been long made, but it was one wherein never man was yet laid. To describe it the second word (kainos) is used (Matthew 27:60 and John 19:41). In the same way, the wine-skins (called “bottles” in our English version) required for the new wine were not necessarily wine-skins only just prepared for service, but they were skins which had not grown withered, but retained their freshness and elasticity. Here, again, the second word (kainos) is employed to describe them. Now, it is this latter word which is used throughout this chapter, and, indeed, throughout the book of Revelation. The newness which is pictured is the newness of freshness: the old, decaying, enfeebling, and corrupting elements are swept away. The aspects and features which will surround the inhabitants of that new earth will be full of novelty to satisfy the progressive instincts of our nature; but the imagery no less conveys the assurance that the conservative instinct, which clings to what is old, and finds sanctity in the past, will not be disregarded. All things may be new, full of fresh and fair beauty; but all things will not be strange; there must be some correspondency between the old and the new, when the new things are called new heavens, new earth, new Jerusalem. The description is figurative, but the spirit of it implies that in the restitution age the sweetness of things loved and familiar will blend with the charm of all that is fresh and new.
And there was no more sea.—Or, better, And the sea is (exists) not any more. Among the more detailed features of the new earth, this obliteration of the sea stands first. It is strange that so many commentators should vacillate between literal and figurative interpretations of the chapter; the ornaments and decorations of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10-21) are treated as symbolical; the annihilation of the sea is considered as literal. It is wiser to leave the literal meaning to the future, and to grasp the spiritual teachings, which are of infinite and present interest, The sea has played an important part in the symbolism of the book: out of the sea rose the wild beast (Revelation 13:1); the purple-clad Babylon sat enthroned upon many waters (Revelation 17:1); the restless, tumultuous ocean, now discordant with its clamorous waves, now flooding the earth in confederate force; the troubled sea of evil, which cannot rest, and casts up but mire and dirt (Isaiah 57:21), is no more to be found on the face of that earth, or near that city whose peace is as a river, and whose righteousness as the waves of the sea (Isaiah 48:18), and whose inhabitants are delivered from “the waves of this troublesome world.”
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.(2) And I John saw the holy city . . .—Better, And the holy city, new Jerusalem, I saw coming down out of the heaven from God, prepared . . . The name John is omitted in the best MSS. The new Jerusalem is more fully described later on (Revelation 21:10 et seq.). The city is also the bride (comp. Revelation 21:9-10). Both images—the “city” and the “bride”—are familiar to the Bible student. The sacred city appears linked to God by a sacred bond. (Comp. Psalm 45:13-14; Isaiah 61:10; Isaiah 62:4-5; Galatians 4:26; Ephesians 5:25-27.) The city-bride is now adorned for her Husband. We know what her ornaments are, now that He is about to present her to Himself a glorious Church: the meekness and gentleness of Christ, and her loving obedience to Him (1Peter 3:4), are her jewels. She is seen, not rising from earth or sea, like the foes of righteousness (Revelation 13:1; Revelation 13:11), but coming down from heaven. The world will never evolve a golden age or ideal state. The new Jerusalem must descend from God. The true pattern, which alone will realise man’s highest wishes, is the pattern in the mount of God (Acts 7:44).
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.THE FIRST VOICE.—The voice out of the throne (Revelation 21:3-4.)
(3) And I heard a great voice out of heaven. . . .—According to the best MSS. the voice now heard was heard “out of the throne,” saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will tabernacle with them. Here, as in Revelation 7:15, the translation, “shall dwell,” weakens the force of the allusion. The tent, or tabernacle, is in the seer’s mind. There is a difference in the prepositions used here and in Revelation 7 : in the latter, God was spoken of as tabernacling over them; here He tabernacles with them. He not only stretches His cloud-shelter over them, but He is with them. They shall be His people, and He shall be God with them, their God. The introduction of the words in italics (“and be”) in our version is a weakness; the force of the thought is spoiled. They are God’s people, and He is their Emmanuel—God with them, their God. The prophet Ezekiel supplies parallel thoughts (Ezekiel 37:27-28; comp. also Leviticus 26:11-12).
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.(4) And God shall wipe away all tears . . .—Instead of “all tears” we should translate “every tear,” and so possess the promise in its true and tender form. The first, or former, things are passed away: death shall not be any longer; neither shall mourning, nor crying, nor pain, be any longer. The splendid array of negatives come as heralds of the positive peace of the new Jerusalem: no sea, no tears, no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain; with the former things these six shadows pass away from life. “The mourning is that grief which so takes possession of the whole being that it cannot be hid” (Abp. Trench). It is the same word that is rendered “wailing” in our English version (Revelation 18:15). It is used of mourning for the dead. Crying is the voice of despair and dismay, as well as sorrow; it is the loud outcry which is the witness that “the times are out of joint.” Pain includes painful labour and weariness. With the passing away of these there must depart the ground for the often-repeated cry of “Vanity of vanities! “The sad minor of the poet’s song will cease, for—
“Time with a gift of tears,
Grief with a glass that ran,”
And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.THE SECOND VOICE.—The voice of Him who sitteth on the Throne (Revelation 21:5-8).
(5) And he that sat upon the throne . . .—Better, And he who sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new. And he saith (the words “unto me” should be omitted) write; because these words are faithful and true. It is the Throned one, the One who rules over all things from the beginning, and who has presided over all the changing scenes of earth’s history, who speaks; it is He who makes even the wrath of man to praise Him, and who causes all things to work together for good to them that love Him, who gives this heart-helping assurance. “I am making all things new.” In spite of the moral disorder, the pain and grief, the dark shadows of life and history, the new creation is being prepared, and will rise, like the early creation, out of chaos. The analogy between the old and new creation is the reason why the first chapter of Genesis and the earlier verses of this chapter are appointed as the morning lessons for Septuagesima Sunday; as out of an earth without form and void rose the world of order and beauty, which God pronounced very good, so out of the world, so full of distress and tears, and overshadowed by so many clouds of sin, will emerge the glad new world, wherein dwelleth righteousness. The closing words of the verse, perhaps an instruction from the angel, but more probably still the voice of Him that sits on the throne, adds the further assurance, “These words are true and faithful.”
And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.(6) And he said unto me, It is done.—Or, rather, They (the things promised) have come to pass. He spake, and it was done. The assurance is made trebly sure. “I am making all things new.” “These words are true.” “They are fulfilled.” “Twice,” says Bengel, “twice it is said in this book ‘It is done.’ First at the completion of the wrath of God in Revelation 16:17, and here again at the making of all things new.”
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end . . .—The definite article must be placed before Alpha and Omega. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the Alpha and Omega, whose words are faithful and true, and He is the beginning and the end, who is before all things and by whom all things consist (Colossians 1:17; John 1:1). He finishes as well as begins. He who begins the good work will perform it (Philippians 1:6; Colossians 1:20); all grace flows from Him; and all love flows back to Him, who is Love, who is the cause and end of all, who first makes us, and lastly makes us rest in Him. All the unsatisfied yearnings of the heart may find satisfaction in Him. Hence, perhaps, this promise, I to him that thirsteth will give out of the spring of the water of life freely. No promise shall fail—the needy and thirsty so often invited to Him may find fresh springs of life in Him. (Comp. Isaiah 55:1; John 4:10-14; John 7:37-38.) The blessing is promised freely, as an unbought gift, without money and without price. This is the genius of the good news of God—the gift is free to all. He who understands this will not be afraid to say, “Nothing in my hand I bring;” and he who says this will be he who will also say, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ,” so that he who brings everything brings nothing; and he who brings nothing brings everything, knowing that all is nothing.
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.(7) He that overcometh shall inherit all things . . .—Rather, He that conquereth shall inherit these things; and I will be to him God, and he shall be to me a son. The general promise of Revelation 21:3 is in part repeated, and this time more individually. Again we catch, as it were, the echo of the promises to the Seven Churches, the blessing is for him that conquereth. The idea of the war and the conquest is a favourite one with St. John. (John 16:33, and 1John 2:13-14; 1John 5:4-5; see also Note on Revelation 2:7.) The source and weapon of victory have been before stated: the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony (Revelation 12:11), and the victory of faith (1John 5:4).
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.(8) But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable . . .—Better, But for the cowardly and unfaithful (or, unbelieving) and defiled with abominations, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and for all the false, their part (is) in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which thing is the second death. The list here given points to those classes of character which cannot find a place in the Holy City. Nothing that defileth shall enter in. The less glaring faults stand first, the cowardly and unbelieving. There is a high and holy fear in which the Christian passes the time of his sojourn here (1Peter 1:17); but there is a base and selfish fear, a fear of man, which brings a snare; those who have faith enter boldly the strife, following the Lamb whithersoever He goeth, and conquering by faith. The cowardly sink into companionship with the faithless and unbelieving, with the workers of iniquity. The abominations spoken of here have reference to those mentioned in Revelation 17:4. The characters, it has been thought, form four pairs. Fear and unbelief go hand in hand (Deuteronomy 20:1-8; Matthew 8:26); the workers of abomination and the murderers, the fornicators and the sorcerers are united as those who sin in secret; the idolaters and the false, as those who change God’s truth into a lie. (Comp. Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5; Philippians 3:19.) These who are thus shut out from the heavenly city stand in contrast to those who are admitted; yet among those admitted arc such who have sinned through fear, faithlessness, and fleshliness. Sin indeed excludes from the city, but it is sin loved sin unrepented of, which alone can close the gate of the city whose gates lie open day and night.
And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife.THE HEAVENLY JERUSALEM DESCRIBED (Revelation 21:9 to Revelation 22:5).—Before entering upon this section it is wise to recall once more that the descriptions here given are figurative, and are not to be understood literally. “There is nothing in it as it seems saving the King.” This remark may well be thought needless; but the misconceptions and misrepresentations of the Christian’s hope have been many and reckless; and, even were this not the case, there is always a certain proportion of people who seem incapable of understanding figurative language. Half the errors of the Church have been due to prosaic-minded men who could not discern the difference between figure and fact; and men of unpoetical and vehement temperament have blundered over these descriptions, and their blunders have discredited the whole Apocalypse in the eyes of some. The following are the features of the heavenly city, which the description seems designed to enforce upon our thoughts. The great and holy community will be one which draws its glory from God (Revelation 21:11; Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5). Its blessings are not for a few, but open to all, for its gates lie open to all quarters (Revelation 21:12-13). The heavenly and the earthly will be at one; angels, apostles, and patriarchs are there (Revelation 21:12; Revelation 21:14). Diverse characters will find entrance there; the gates bear the names of the twelve tribes. The door of admission is alike for all, though diverse characters from diverse quarters will enter in (Revelation 21:21). It will be the abode of all that is fair and good, and no disproportions will mar its loveliness (Revelation 21:17-18). The ancient truths, spoken by various lips, will be found to be eternal truths, full of varied but consistent beauty (Revelation 21:14; Revelation 21:19-20). The forms and helps which were needful here will not be needful there (Revelation 21:22-23); all that the servants of God have righteously hungered and thirsted for here will be supplied there (Revelation 22:1-2). There will be blessings, various, continuous, eternal; new fields of labour and new possibilities of service will be opened there (Revelation 22:3-4).
(9) And there came unto me one of the seven angels . . .—The words “unto me” should be omitted. One of the seven angels which had the seven vials of wrath had shown to the seer the scarlet-clad harlot, the great and guilty Babylon: so here does one of the same company of angels show him the pure Bride of the Lamb, the new and holy Jerusalem.
And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,(10) And he carried me away in the spirit . . .—Better, He carried me away in spirit on to a mountain, great and high. It is not merely that the height gives a fine view-ground, the symbolism carries us further. The glimpse of God’s coming glories is best gained from the consecrated heights of self-surrender and prayer. On a mountain apart—the mountain of supplication and separation from the world—is the light and glory of God best seen. There are Beulah heights and transfiguration heights from which we may gain glimpses of the city and the glory of the Lord of the city. (Comp. Matthew 17:1-4.) The angel carried away the seer to a mountain great and high, and showed him (not “that great city,” but) the holy city Jerusalem descending out of the heaven from (having its origin from) God. The tempter showed to our Lord the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; the comforting angel shows to our Lord’s prophet the city that hath the foundations, and the glory of it—the city that is of God, its builder and maker. (Comp. Hebrews 11:10, where the right rendering is not “a city,” but the city which hath the foundations.)
Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal;(11) Having the glory of God . . .—The glory of God is the glorious presence of God, the true Shechinah, of which we have read before (Revelation 15:8, and see Revelation 21:23). The light of the city is described: And her light (or, brightness: it is the light which she gives; the same word is used as that employed in the LXX., Genesis 1:17, for the heavenly bodies) is like a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone crystallising. On the meaning and appearance of this stone, see Note on Revelation 4:3. It is in all probability a stone transparent and clear as the crystal, but retaining the greenish hue belonging to the jasper. The general brightness of the city was lustrous as the diamond but shot with the green tint of the emerald bow which swept the throne. (Comp. Revelation 4:3.)
And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:(12, 13) And had a wall great and high . . .—Or, better (for the construction is continued), Having a wall great and high, and having twelve gate-towers, and at the gate-towers twelve angels, and names inscribed which are (names) of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel: from the sun-rising (i.e., facing east) three gate-towers; from the north three gate-towers, from the south three gate-towers; from the sun-setting three gate-towers. On this arrangement of gates Numbers 2, Ezekiel 48, and Revelation 7 should be compared. In the encampment in the wilderness (Numbers 2) the tribes were arranged as follows: on the east, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun; on the south, Reuben, Simeon, Gad; on the west, Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin; on the north, Dan, Asher, Naphtali. There is perhaps allusion in the present passage to this wilderness encampment, and to the re-adjustment of the order of the tribes in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 48); but there is more than order here: the gates lie open to all quarters; there is no refusal of admission to any people. The representatives of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, are (Revelation 7:9) in the city of Christ; in Him there is neither barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but all are one. The diversities of human nationality and character, of age and race, and climate, are brought into one communion and fellowship. (Comp. Note on Revelation 7:4.) “The wall great and high” is mentioned to assure us of the security and peace of that city where no foe “or thief approacheth” (Isaiah 26:1; Zechariah 2:5).
And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.(14) And the wall of the city had . . .—Or, rather, And the wall of the city having twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb. There were twelve large stones forming the basement of the wall, the names of the Apostles were inscribed on these. The whole Old and New Testament Church is represented in the appearance of the city; but the work of the Apostles receives its special recognition; it is on their teaching and witness for Christ that the great spiritual Jerusalem is built. There is complete harmony of thought here between St. Paul and St. John. St. Paul described the Church as built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone (Ephesians 2:20). We may compare the same illustration used by our Lord (Matthew 16:18) and afterwards by St. Peter (1Peter 2:4-6). The argument that St. John could not be the writer of the Apocalypse because he speaks of the Apostles (and so includes himself) as the foundation-stones of the celestial city, might be applied with equal wisdom against the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Ephesians; it is, moreover, a class of argument which betrays a tendency to confusion of thought, and to misapprehension of the meaning and value of symbols. Historically and doctrinally the Church of Christ is built upon the foundations here described; our creeds declare an acknowledgment of a catholic and apostolic Church. Note the recurrence of the name, the Lamb, to describe our Lord. He is still the Lamb; the writer lingers over the well and early known image. (Comp. John 1:29; John 1:36.)
(15) And he that talked with me . . .—Or, better, And he who was talking with me had a golden reed . . . The allusion here is to the angel mentioned in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 15:3); the reed, or measuring rod, is of gold, that used in Revelation 11:1 was not said to be of gold; the measurement there was the symbol of preservation amid impending danger; the measuring here is more glorious—it is measuring which exhibits the beauty and proportion of the city which is now dwelling at peace. Gold is one of the features of the city; the street is gold (Revelation 21:18; Revelation 21:21); it may stand, as a token of the wealth (Psalm 72:15; 1Kings 10:14-21) of the royal city; but the wealth of that city is love. (Comp. Note on Revelation 3:18.)
And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.(16) And the city lieth foursquare . . .—The city is foursquare, because the length and breadth are equal; but it is added that the height also is equal to the length and breadth, the city thus presents the symbol of perfect symmetry; this is all that is needed. Many interpreters are nervously anxious about the monstrous appearance of a city whose walls measured three thousand stadii (the word rendered “furlongs” is properly stadii); but there is no need to be nervous about the symbols; the city is not designed, any more than the vision of Revelation 4, or the vision of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1) to be represented by painting to the eye: the attempt to do so only ends in the production of grotesque and profane pictures. It is not needful, however, in this case to suppose the actual wall to have been 3,000 stadii in height; the city is placed on a hill, the foundations are upon the holy hill, and the deep strong mountain foundations may be included in the measurement. The main thought, however, is to realise the harmony and proportion of that community, in which broad and low and high will meet, and in which no truth will be exaggerated or distorted; in which no disproportioned adjustments will mar its social order; in which all those who are inbuilt as living stones will be measured, not by the false estimates of worldly thoughts (comp. James 2:4), but by the golden reed of the sanctuary.
And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.(17) And he measured the wall thereof . . .—Better. And he measured its wall by an hundred and forty-four cubits (i.e., in height), man’s measure, which is angel’s. The measurement is in man’s measure, but the reed was handled by an angel; the measure is true for men and true for angels; it may mean that the angel used the ordinary human measure, but may it not imply that the vision is true for all, for the earthly and for the heavenly? it is man’s measure, it is angel’s measure; the human will not find the picture untrue, though the city is not literal: it is figurative, but not mere figure. The recurrence of the number hundred and forty-four recalls us to the figurative character of the description. (Comp. Note on Revelation 7:4.)
(18) And the building of the wall . . .—Or, And the building-work (or, the masonry, so Alford) of the wall of it was jasper, and the city was pure gold, like pure glass. The general aspect of the city was jasperlike, because the material of the wall was of the jasper stone. On this stone, see Note on Revelation 4:3, and on Revelation 21:11 above. The city was gold. On the meaning of the gold see Note on Revelation 21:15 and on Revelation 3:18. To what has been said may be added the following:—“Gold has an inalienable reference to the sun itself, consequently, to the symbol of the face of God, or Christ, i.e., to the manifestation of God’s love” (Lange).
The wealth of heaven is love; love is the circulating medium of all holy activity and of all holy work: all who dwell within the heavenly city are encompassed by it; all who tread the streets of that city move along the ways of love; no dimness or obscuring motives of self-interest mar its lustre—the gold is clear as pure glass.
And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald;(19) And the foundations of the wall . . .—Better, The foundations of the wall of the city (were) adorned with every precious stone. We may compare the adornment of the harlot (Revelation 17:4). Her robe was decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls. The Bride, the Lamb’s wife, has her beautiful ornaments, richer and rarer than those which adorned the world-mistress. The comparison reminds us, in a vivid and figurative way, of our Master’s often-repeated teaching. He that saveth his life, loseth it; he that loseth, saveth it; he that is content to pass by the dazzling attractions of the world, refusing splendour from the outstretched hand of Babylon, will win the true spiritual riches. There is no man that has turned away for Christ’s sake from the attractions of the world-spirit, that hath forsaken houses and lands for Christ’s sake and the gospel, but shall receive manifold more, &c. (Mark 10:28-31). The “jewels of right celestial worth” are part of the heritage of him who can nobly hold cheap the degrading hire of the world. (Comp. Isaiah 54:12.)
The foundation are various. There were in the foundation of the Church diversities of gifts and administrations, but the same Lord and the same spirit. In the heavenly city we have harmony, not monotony; variety, not sameness; unity, not uniformity. The stones are not arranged in the order of the high priest’s breastplate, but according to their various shades of colour, beginning from the foundation.
1.Jaspis, dark opaque green.
2.Sapphirus, Lapis-lazuli, opaque blue.
3.Chalcedon, an Emerald of a greenish hue.
4.Smaragdus, bright transparent green.
5.Sardonyx, white and red.
6.Sardius, bright red.
7.Chrysolite, our Topaz, bright yellow.
8.Beryl, bluish green.
9.Topazion, or Peridot, yellowish green.
10.Chrysoprasus, a darker shade of the same colour.
11.Hyacinthus, Sapphire, sky blue.
“Chrysoprasus is probably an error for Chrysopaston, a dark blue stone, studded with gold, by which substitution all the shades of blue will follow each other.” (See King, On Gems.)
With this blended harmony of colour the foundation-stones would encircle the heavenly city as with a rainbow belt. In the seer’s view the light of the heavenly city would shine with hues that betoken the advent of the morning. The varying tints would glow like pledges of a dayspring from on high.
“Along the tingling desert of the sky,
Beyond the circle of the conscious hills
Were laid in jasper-stone as clear as glass
The first foundations of that new, near Day,
Which should be builded out of heaven to God.
Jasper first, I said;
And second, sapphire; third, chalcedony;
The rest in order;-last, an amethyst.”
The foundation-stones are twelve. “As twelve, they indicate their numerical completeness (Revelation 7, 14); as shining with a common lustre, their unity; as stones of different hues, their manifoldness; as brilliant stones, the glorification of this earthly life through the light of Heaven” (Lange).
And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.(21) And the twelve gates . . .—Or, gate-towers. Each gate was of one pearl—i.e., made out of one pearl. The foundations are diverse; the gates are alike. There is one way, though there are many roads; one mode of entrance, through twelve gates. All find entrance through one new and living Way (John 14:6; Acts 4:11-12; 1Corinthians 3:11; Hebrews 10:20). The pearl was esteemed of the greatest value among the ancients; it is an appropriate emblem of the highest truth, and so of Him who is the Truth as well as the Way of Life. Lord Bacon compared truth to a pearl “that showeth best by day.” Another feature may be added. It is the only precious stone which the art and skill of man cannot improve. The tools of the artificer may give fresh lustre to the emerald and the sapphire; but he must lift no tool upon the pearl. So is it with the truth, which sets men free (1Corinthians 3:10). Through truth, and Him who is Truth, we enter the city; and the street of the city was gold, pure as transparent glass. (See Note on Revelation 21:18.)
And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.(22) And I saw no temple therein . . .—Rather, And temple I saw not in it, for the Lord God the Almighty is her temple, and the Lamb. In Ezekiel’s vision the vast and splendid proportions of the Temple formed a conspicuous part: its gigantic proportions declared it to be figurative (Ezekiel 48:8-20); but the present vision passes on to a higher state of things. “I saw no temple:” Ezekiel’s vision declared that the literal temple would be replaced by a far more glorious spiritual temple. The age of the Christian Church succeeds the age of the Jewish temple-worship; the age of the Church triumphing will succeed the age of the Church toiling; and there the external organisations, helps, and instrumentalities required for the edifying of the body of Christ will no longer be needed. Tongues, prophecies, knowledge, may pass away (1Corinthians 13:9; Ephesians 4:11-13); churches will disappear, absorbed in the one glorious Church; ministries, missionary organisations, helps, governments, may cease. There God is all. The Lord is there—the temple, the sanctuary, the dwelling-place of His people. (Comp. Ezekiel 48:35.) Every merely local aspect of worship is at an end (John 4:21-24).
And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.(23) And the city had no need of the sun . . .—Rather, And the city hath not need of the sun, nor of the moon that they should shine on (or, for) her; for the glory of God enlightened her, and her lamp is the Lamb. The Shechinah is again alluded to. Light is the emblem of knowledge and holiness. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1John 1:5). Christ the Lamb, came as the Light of the World. Now in the heavenly Jerusalem is the light seen as a lamp that burneth. The imagery is drawn from Isaiah. “The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory” (Isaiah 60:19). No more will there be needed subsidiary or intermediate luminaries. He who makes the righteous to shine like stars, and causes His churches to shine like lights in the world, will be Himself the Light and Sun of His people: they shall see Him as He is. It is again to be noticed that the emblem of the Lamb is used to describe our Lord in this verse, and in the last, as it was also in Revelation 21:14. The memory of Christ’s work on earth is never obliterated: still in the intense splendour and joy of that city of light the remembrance of Him who was led as a lamb to the slaughter gives depth and fulness to its joy.
And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it.(24) And the nations of them which are saved . . .—We must omit, with the best MSS., the words “of them which are saved,” and read, And the nations shall walk by means of its light, and the kings of the earth carry their glory into her. The outlook of the prophet is from the loneliness and depression of the then persecuted and despised churches; but in the vision he sees her beautiful and enlarged and honoured. All nations and peoples flock within the walls: it is the echo of the ancient prophecies. “All kings shall fall down before Him: all nations shall serve Him.” The Church and kingdom of Christ increase without end; and all will cast their glory at His feet, and call Him blessed in whom all have been blessed (Psalm 72:11; Psalm 72:17).
And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.(25, 26) And the gates of it . . .—Better, And the gates (or, gate-towers) shall never be shut by day, for night shall not be there. The gates shall never be shut: all day they shall be open, and that day shall be for ever, for there shall be no night there. All that darkens—the sin that brings night on the soul; the sorrow that brings night on the heart—shall be banished for ever. In peace by day, the city gates will be open; nor can there be night when God the Almighty is the Sun. (Comp. Isaiah 60:11; Ezekiel 38:11.) Through its open gates they (i.e., men) will bring the glory and honour of the nations into her. As men find that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and that their strength is in Christ, without whom they can do nothing, so will their lives bring back to Him the lustre of all their achievements.
And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life.(27) And there shall in no wise enter into . . .—Better, And there shall never enter into her anything unclean, and he that worketh abomination and falsehood, but only (or, except) they that have been written in the book of life of the Lamb. The gates stand open always, but no evil thing may find a home there. The emphatic repetition here (see Revelation 21:8) of the idea that all sin is excluded, is in harmony with all other Scripture: no unholiness can dwell in the presence of God. The allusion is to the care of the Jews to exclude all things unclean from the precincts of the sanctuary. The legal and ceremonial defilement had its spiritual significance, which the Apostles utilised elsewhere. (Comp. 2Corinthians 6:17-18; 2Corinthians 7:1; Revelation 18:4. On the “book of life,” see Revelation 20:12.)