William Kelly Major Works Commentary
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.Revelation Chapter 21
In the first eight verses of chap. 21 we have the new heaven and the new earth, but besides, awful to say, the lake of fire. Indeed it must be so, because, as we read in the end of the last chapter, there the lost were cast. But still it is an unspeakably solemn fact to read, which we are bound to preach. Even in the perfect state of eternity, while there is the brightness of the heaven and of the earth into which no evil can enter, we equally see the evil that ever has been, all the wicked of every clime and of every age, cast into the fixed condition of eternal judgment in the lake of fire. "The sea is no more" - a fact quite different from the millennium. The sea, so important for all life as it is, vanishes thence, no more needed, nor even consistent with the new and eternal conditions.
"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of the heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God [is] with men, and he shall tabernacle with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, their God. And he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; nor grief nor cry nor distress shall be any more; [for] the first things passed away. And he that sitteth on the throne said,
Behold, I make all things new. And he saith, Write, for these words are true and faithful. And he said to me, It is come to pass. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to him that thirsteth of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But for the fearful and unbelieving [and sinners] and abominable and murderers and fornicators and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part [is] in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death." What a picture of eternity! How worthy of God, and how different from the dreams of monks and priests, on the one hand, and on the other from all the impostures of the east!
Observe a singularly important fact. All the dispensational names of God disappear. It is only "God" and "men" now. There is nothing more to hear of "nations"; nothing remains of separate countries and kingdoms, of kindreds or tongues. It is the eternal state; and, in fact, the fullest description of that state furnished in the Bible. But 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 reveals a great truth not here spoken of, yet quite consistent with it, that as Christ received the millennial kingdom as man, He gives it up when the aim shall be fulfilled. His rights as God remain unchanging.
Although there is such a levelling of temporal distinctions, and men have to do directly with God (men raised from the dead, in their changed condition, according to Christ in His counsels), we still see the Jerusalem on high, "the holy city, new Jerusalem," separate from the rest of those that fill the new heaven and earth. This is of great importance; because if the new Jerusalem be, as no doubt it is, the bride the Lamb's wife, then we have her separate condition asserted in eternity. This is His tabernacle, and it is regarded as a distinct object, no doubt associated with men, but not confounded with them. Men are not regarded as composing this tabernacle; they co-exist. It is no longer above (that is in the thousand years), but come down, that God may thus tabernacle with men, and Himself be with them; their God. What rest! These things the overcomer shall inherit.
All things are thus made new; and further, "these words are faithful and true." Nothing more needs to be done. As God is the beginning, so is He the end; nor this only, but the Revealer of all from first to last. As His grace furnished freely of the fountain of the water of life to the thirsty one, and thus strengthened him to win the victory over the world and him who ever opposes God and His Son; so the fearful who did not trust Him, and the unbelieving, with the sad train of evildoers that springs from such dishonour of God, have their portion where His wrath burns unquenchably. They judged themselves unworthy of life eternal; on them the second death exerts its resistless power. Hence no scheme can be less intelligent, or more inconsistent, than the strange disarrangement of such as synchronise Revelation 21:1-8 with the millennium. Such exposition is indeed lame, halt, and blind. Sometimes the one thing, sometimes the other, cannot pass muster.
Here occurs a remarkable change in the sequence of the visions, though easily understood; for it must be evident that there can be nothing to follow this in point of time, seeing that it is the eternal state. Here then we unquestionably go back to be shown an important object in the prophecy which could not, without interrupting its course, have been described before. Yet in this it is as we saw in Revelation 17, after Babylon had been brought before us in the course of the prophecy. Babylon had been seen twice: first, in the septenary of God's warnings and testimonies (Rev. 14); and then as the object of God's judgment under the seven Bowls (Rev. 16). Afterwards a full description of Babylon and its relation to the Beast and the ten kings is given. It would have been awkward to bring in this long description before, because the flow of the prophetic stream would have been interrupted. It is a subsequent appendix in Rev. 17 and 18.
An exactly similar order is repeated here, and it becomes the more apparent from the similarity of the introduction on each occasion. "And there came one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls full of the seven last strokes, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." Who does not see that this is precisely analogous to the verse which opened the description of Babylon (Revelation 17:1), Is it too much to believe that God intended this analogy to be noted by us? In neither case is it a pursuance of the prophetic course of time. But this is a description of the holy city previously (Revelation 19:6-8) to our deep interest set before us, just as the other was a description of the corrupt city, whose judgment had been fully announced. We had Babylon with a spuriously ecclesiastical but a really murderous character, and at the same time guilty of corruption with the kings of the earth and riding the Beast, with the closing catastrophe.
Here is seen coming down out of heaven from God the holy city, which is declared to be the bride, the Lamb's wife, in the plainest contrast with the vile harlot. Yet to this heavenly city, after Christ comes, the kings of the earth bring their offerings and their homage, in contrast with her maddening excitement of the nations, her filthy fornication with their rulers, her blood-guiltiness as to the saints of Jesus, and her abominations against God. In short Babylon, the disgusting counterpart of the holy city, in earthly ambition seeks the kings and the masses for her own lusts, while God's church suffers now in patient faith and love, and shall reign when Christ reigns. The one therefore throws much light upon the other.
But we may also notice that the truth as to this proves its exceeding importance. For if we heed the plain fact of retrospect at this point, there is a complete removal of the difficulty caused by taking the last vision of this book as part of the prophetic series which began in Revelation 19. Clearly it is an added digression for the purpose of fully describing an object already named passingly in the foregoing series, which really closes at Revelation 21:8. As Revelation 17 was a descriptive digression, so is the portion from chapter 21: 9. The account given of Babylon in Revelation 17 does not follow Revelation 14 or 16 in point of prophetic time, but wholly differs from them in this respect. It gives a retrogressive account of Babylon's character, and shows how its enormity morally compelled the divine judgment. So here a description is given of the bride, the Lamb's wife; and we learn how it is that God will use her as the vessel of His glory for unmeasured goodness and blessing in the millennium, as the devil during this age has used Babylon, seeking and abusing the world's glory, unto the dishonour of God and of His Son, to accomplish his destructive plans of evil here below. Just as the city of man's confusion was seen in her vile, degraded, and degrading relations with the Beast and the kings of the earth, this city is seen in her pure and glorious relations with the Lamb, and with the kings and the nations of the earth also.
"And he carried me away in Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of the heaven from God, having the glory of God." It is not into a wilderness the prophet is now carried, but set on "a mountain great and high," and shown, not the great but "the holy city Jerusalem." The great city before was either earthly Jerusalem or yet more Babylon. Here we have to guard against a prevalent error. The holy city shown to the prophet is declared to be, not the abode of the bride but the bride herself, viewed here in a governmental point of view, the metropolis of the kingdom to come and indeed of all creation, still with special reference to the kings and the nations of the earth. Earthly Jerusalem, so prominent everywhere in the Old Testament prophets, is not seen here, but the holy city that comes down out of heaven from God; and she is the bride of the Lamb. It is still in a governmental aspect. For the city is seen now as the holy vessel of divine power coming down out of the heaven from God for governing the earth during the millennium, "having the glory of God: and her light-bearing was like a stone most precious, as jasper stone like crystal," which naturally jasper is not, any more than gold is like pure glass. It is intentionally supernatural and symbolic.
Then follows a description of the wall, gates, foundations, and general position. "Having a wall great and high, having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names inscribed which are [those] of the twelve tribes of [the] children of Israel." It was important, just because it is the bride, the Lamb's wife, to show that angels serve there, and further, that Israel is not forgotten. The very name indeed shows a similar design; yet we must not forget that the church can only be heavenly. Still God does not conceal His ways with His old people. As the angels here are seen in the quality of porters that stand at the gates; so for the twelve tribes of Israel, they are merely written there. No hint whatever is given that they constitute any part of the city, but there is the inscription of their names outside. That city will be a constant remembrancer of those who went before restored Israel here below, as undoubtedly it will be used for their blessing during the millennium, when all the families of the earth are also blessed. It is plain that the city's aspect is central for the universe, yet not without a special thought and mark of Israel; and is it not quite right that it should be so? "On [the] east three gates, on [the] north three gates, on [the] south three gates, and on [the] west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." These would appear to be (save Judas Iscariot, of course) the twelve apostles peculiarly associated with Christ in His suffering path on the earth God is sovereign. It is not meant that he who was more honoured in service than any of the twelve, he whom the Lord used for bringing out the church of the heavenly places, will not have his own most singular dignity in this glorious scene. Still God acts in a wisdom far above man, and holds to His principles even there. The twelve apostles of the Lamb will accordingly have their own special place. We may be very sure that God will not give a worse place to the apostle Paul; yet we may discern that this is scarcely his place.
"And he that spoke with me had a golden reed au a measure, that he might measure the city, and its gates, and its wall. And the city lieth four-square, and its length [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 of it are equal. And he measured its wall a hundred [and] forty-four cubits, a man's measure, that is [the] angel's." If the last be the thickness of the wall, which otherwise does not appear, it has been suggested that it was not for protection against a foe. As a whole it was a cube. Infinite it could not be, but finite perfection. Thus there is a completeness and perfection about it suited to its then present and everlasting character.
Afterwards we come to its intrinsic description, and this - of the building of its wall, its foundations, its gates, and its street. Jasper kept up the manifestation of God's governmental glory, as gold divine righteousness in access to God, and this like pure glass where was no question of evil but transparent purity. The very foundations displayed the varied out-shinings of His nature. It was no question longer of testifying on the High Priest's breast how precious were His people to Him. And what a figure of moral beauty in the twelve gates, each of which was one pearl, utterly beyond nature! "And the building of its wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like pure glass The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones. 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, jacinth; 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, transparent as glass." How it all lifts us up above man and nature!
* It may interest the reader to know that the most learned of authorities, in his History of Precious Stones, avows his profound wonder at the arrangement of the twelve foundation courses of the New Jerusalem. Notoriously it differs wholly from that of the High Priest's breast-plate, or rationale as the Latins have rendered the λογεῖον or περιστήθιον." "Instead of this S. John has most ingeniously disposed of them according to their various shades of the same colour, as the following list will demonstrate, taking them in order from the bottom upwards." "So minute an acquaintance with the nicest shades of colour of the precious stones will more forcibly impress the reader, if he should attempt to arrange from memory, and by his own casually acquired knowledge alone, twelve gems, or even half that number, according to their proper tints. The 'sainted seer' alludes in other passages . . . in a very technical manner" [iv. xxi. 11]...." Such allusions display that exact knowledge of particulars, only possessed by persons dealing in precious stones or from other circumstances obliged to have a practical acquaintance with their nature; which could never have been found in a Galilean fisherman, unless we choose to cut the knot of the difficulty with the ever-ready sword of verbal inspiration." Oh! the helplessness of man's ability and erudition, when he fears to believe in God's writing His word through man. The difficulty then vanishes, and is solved to His glory, without recourse to cutting any knot. How sad when a clergyman is not ashamed to avow his scepticism, and prefers to leave unsolved so striking a dilemma, as he frankly acknowledges, rather than own the divine source, character, and authority of scripture! All is simple and sure to faith, without which it is impossible to please God.
Further, a negative point of great importance is presented by the seer. "And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God the Almighty is its temple, and the Lamb." This was no real lack. On the contrary, it proved the immediateness of communion. The temple would suppose a medium. The absence of a temple is therefore no loss but a gain for this city. It furnishes material for a contrast between the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly city, because if there be one thing more remarkable than another in Ezekiel's description, it is the temple to be. But here there is none; a temple is for the earth. The heavenly city, which is the full expression of blessedness on high, has no temple because it is all temple. "And the city had no need of the sun, nor of the moon, that they should shine for it." This too must not be viewed as if it were a loss. As for the earthly land and city, the moon will have her light increased to that of the sun, and the sun shall be sevenfold. But here there is neither; and this again is an evidence of gain immeasurable. "For the glory of God enlightened it, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof." Creature lights are gone, that the divine may illumine.
After "the nations" in verse 24 omit the words "of them which are saved." The best authorities leave out this addition, without which we have the true force of the verse. It is a wholly unwarranted interpolation. "The nations shall wall: in the light of it." Any one of spiritual judgment can see that it should not be "nations of them which are saved." What would be the meaning, if so read? We can understand a remnant saved out of one or more nations; but who ever heard of "nations of them which are saved"? It is altogether unfeasible, and it shows how carelessly people read the Bible that they are not stopped by such an expression. "The saved" is a term which, so far from belonging to the nations, is expressly applied to the Jewish remnant when it is a technical term. But "nations of them which are saved" is an altogether anomalous expression, and betrays man as its blundering author.
But it is plain that the nations are not in the city. "And the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour unto it" - not into, but unto. That is, it is an expression of the homage that they pay. The word means either as the context may require. "And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for night shall not be there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations unto it. And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, nor one making abomination and a lie; but only those written in the book of life of the Lamb." Moral unfitness has its solemn censure; but sovereign grace must be asserted also as in the last clause. Only such objects of divine love were here admissible.
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
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.
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.
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,
Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal;
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:
On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates.
And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof.
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.
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.
And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear 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;
The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.
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.
And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.
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.
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.
And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.
And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it.
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.