Revelation (Part 23): The New Jerusalem
Beginning in verse 9 of chapter 21, the focus shifts slightly. The New Jerusalem had appeared in the first section of the chapter as the accomplished goal of God’s redeeming purpose and work. Verse 9 begins a subsection bringing greater detailed clarity of that New Jerusalem. The city was first presented as a bride “adorned for her husband.” That image continues in verse 9 with the emphasis that this is the “bride, the wife of the Lamb.” Since the imagery stresses the marriage picture, we ought to consider what that entails.
I constantly refer to marriage as the marriage picture because it is a picture. Marriage is supposed to picture for us the oneness in relationship that is our God and that will be regarding all his people with him. We are, therefore, taught certain things about God based on this marriage imagery that he gave us. One of the main teachings is that we are to give of our strengths to help the whole in relationship. God emphasized this teaching, I believe, in creating us male and female. He gave certain strengths to the male (greater physical force) and certain strengths to the female (greater internal strength for relationship, i.e., nurturing capability). He gave these strengths so that each could wield these strengths in a self-denying, submissive manner for the benefit of the other and the whole. In so doing, we see the heart of God.
Of course, sin entered the world. And we find that this submissive, servant attitude of love is lost. Males use their strengths for satisfying themselves, even to the harm of those who are weaker—especially women. And women use their strengths to selfishly promote themselves also to the destruction of relationships. We see the problem emphasized in the law’s numerous edicts to regulate this resultant error of sin.
But in the sin environment that is the kingdom of this world, God still calls on his people to use their strengths for the benefit of others. And that is still essentially involved in the picture of marriage. A husband ought to give of himself for his wife and the benefit of the relationship just as Christ gave himself for the church. Where the Patriarchal Complementarians get it wrong is not in recognizing inherent complementing differences in men and women, but in assuming that with the responsibility of giving of self, particularly strength for care, authority to direct the life of that one cared for must come along with the responsibility. And that is simply not true.
On the other hand, Biblical Egalitarians sometimes forget that the giving of strength for care is a responsibility. You can’t assume equality in all areas and therefore decide you have no responsibility to submit yourself for the benefit of the other. Biblical Egalitarianism (BE) means that all of us have equal access to God. There is no intermediary between us individually and God based on ethnicity, race, sex, station in life, or anything. No one stands between us and our only master, God (recognizing Jesus as God). So BE is not about making us independent because we are equal, and the marriage picture is intended to show that. Inherent in males are certain strengths and weaknesses. Inherent in females are other (and complementary) strengths and weaknesses. The intention of BE is not to say everyone has strengths. The intention of BE is to recognize we have no authority over each other, but we all have responsibility to submit ourselves one to another. We submit by using our strengths selflessly in order to benefit others. Seen in marriage, the husband uses his greater physical strength to care for in protection of his wife. That is a good and Godly thing to do. Any Biblical Egalitarian who argues against that doesn’t understand BE.
To help keep separate the ideas of authority and care, think of a king who has guards charged with his protection. The guards have no authority over the king, and yet they still must use their strength—even to giving up their very lives—in protection of the king. The picture given in Ephesians 5 is that idea of Christ, the one who has the strength/ability, giving his very life for the protection (purification) of his bride, the church. So when, in a wedding ceremony, we see a father hand over his daughter to the groom, it is not transferring a possession and its also not transferring authority. It should be thought of as a changing of the guard (although, of course, the difference in the wedding is that the activity is based on love).
This is the picture we see in Revelation 21. The city coming from heaven as a bride is a picture of God’s preservation and Christ’s life-giving protection, with the truth, goodness, and beauty of God in shining and pure reflection from the bride.
John is said to be carried away in the Spirit. I think this expression is used to show difference from the current world and its situation. We see the same expression at the beginning of the book when John says he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, indicating that what he saw was not of this earth. And indeed, John is carried to a great and high mountain. Mountains are consistently used to represent kingdoms. This great, high mountain is the kingdom of God. The intention is that this mountain fills the whole earth, just as in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2.
We should take a moment to again settle in our minds that what we are reading is a figurative description of God’s kingdom. We are not reading about how it will actually look or being told about its location. We are being given spiritual truths in material format. Consider in just a few verses that we will read of a city that is shaped as a cube, 1500 miles in width, length, and height. If we literally try to imagine this city coming down on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, we’d have a city that reaches from somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea close to Greece out to the Persian Gulf. It just doesn’t make sense looking at it literally. Couple that thought with the 144 cubit tall wall, and you have a 200 something foot wall surrounding a 1500 mile tall city?? Makes you wonder why Rev 21:12 says the wall is massively high. The wall is about 0.00003% the height of the city. So we can stop trying to get an actual image as a whole. The description is given figuratively in parts to understand the character of God’s kingdom and the relationship won by God through Christ.
The wall indicates separation and protection. In Isaiah 60:18, we read of the walls of the city as salvation and the gates as praise. In Zechariah 2:1–5, we read that the city will have no walls, but that God will be a wall of fire for the city. All these differences in depiction of the walls are for us to understand that God separated us from the sin of this world to bring us to his kingdom of righteousness, protected by him and him alone.
The gates and their foundations, we are told, have angels and Israel’s sons (tribes) and the apostles associated with them. The gates are for coming into the city, so the picture is that all God did throughout history in his interaction through his messengers (angels), Israel, and the Apostles was for this Zion city of fulfilled relational purpose.
In verse 15, we find the building be measured and shown to be a cube—just like the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and temple. This is the meeting place of God. Just as the incense smoke filled the Holy of Holies, God fills the city—his relational purpose—us—so that we are in him and he is in us, just as Jesus had said (John 17:21).