In the first 8 verses of Revelation 21, the bride, the New Jerusalem, is presented. Now we turn for a closer look at the heavenly city and what life will be like for those who live there.
To begin with, John is informed by his heavenly guide that the city doesn’t just act like a bride (Re 21.2)—she actually is one. And her groom, it turns out, is the Lamb Himself, the one who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll (Re 5.1-12), the one who by being sacrificed—by laying down his life—has redeemed to God a people from every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Re 5.9).
And this bride is bedecked as befits her station. The city appears like no other.
- The walls are constructed with stone—not just concrete, or even marble—but precious stone (Re 21.11), the kind you wouldn’t use for massive construction work, because it’s just too expensive. Pretty much all the English translations render this word “jasper,” which is the best they can do to name an unearthly material. But it’s not much like jasper, which is quartz of various colors, and opaque. We read that this stone is “clear as crystal.” And the Greek word rendered “jasper” apparently carries a reference to being cut, more than being a particular species (is that the right word?) of gem. Imagine walls made of faceted diamond! Just that aspect of the city’s beauty boggles the mind.
- It has high walls, with 12 gates and solid foundations (Re 21.12-14). In biblical times, walls were indications of strength; the city was protected from invaders and well positioned to repel them, since defenders could stand atop the walls—on the “high ground”—and make life miserable for any foolish enough to attack. The gates, too, are defensive, specially designed to make entry difficult in multiple ways. But here’s the thing: there are no invaders. All evil has previously been destroyed in the lake of fire (Re 20.11-15; 21.8). There’s no need for defense. This is one astonishingly safe city.
- John’s guide goes to the trouble of measuring the city (Re 21.15-16). Oddly, it’s a cube—square on the ground but as high as its length and width. What that’s going to look like architecturally—lots of stories? spires?—we’re not told, but it reminds us of something ancient. In Solomon’s Temple, the Holiest Place, where God’s personal glory hovered between the cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant, was a cube as well (1K 6.20), of 30 feet, covered with pure gold. This city too is pure gold “like clear glass” (Re 21.18). If we had been able to stand inside the Holiest Place, we would have been astonished. This is exponentially more than that. It isn’t ordinary gold, and it isn’t ordinary construction.
- The foundations are various gemstones; jasper shows up again, as just the first of a dozen materials (Re 21.19-20). The gates are pearl (Re 21.21)—there must be some very large oysters somewhere—which is odd, since there’s no more sea. 🙂 And the streets are gold, again “like transparent glass” (Re 21.21).
Often in my academic reading, I’ll finish a page and think, “I know what every word on this page means, but I have no idea what this writer is talking about.” (That happens a lot with certain unnamed twentieth-century German theologians.) When that happens, I often suspect that it’s a flaw in the writer. The purpose of writing, after all, is to communicate.
But here the problem is not with the writer. The problem here is with me. I can read the words, but the content of this passage is simply beyond my ability to visualize and comprehend. It is beyond earthly experience.
We can only imagine.
And John’s description of the heavenly city is far from finished. So far he has described just the physical things. The spiritual nature of this city—if you will, the culture, the lifestyle, the vibrant life of this city—he’ll get to next.
We’ll talk about that next time.