Revelation (Part 24): Return to the Garden
The action of measuring the city means the same thing that measuring, in its figurative sense, always means in the Bible. We saw John being given a measuring rod in Revelation 11 to measure the sanctuary. In measuring the sanctuary, he was identifying and defining it. We learned of God’s specific concern for that specific sanctuary—place of meeting and relationship. God identified his people by defining them as those who would have relationship with him. We were shown that be the measuring of the sanctuary. Here in chapter 21, we are again shown that the city—the people of God—is in purposed construct by God.
As the city is measured, we find out it is really, really big. We are told that it is 12,000 stadia. A stadion is about 600 feet, and so 12,000 stadia is somewhere around 1400 miles. But converting the measurements so we can contemplate the actual size is not the point. The number 12 speaks of judicial or governmental completion. The number 1000 stands for a vast quantity, even to imply a countless or measureless amount (e.g., Jer 32:18; Ps 68:17, Ps 90:4, Psalm 91:7, Is 30:17). The combination, then, of the 12 and 1000 indicates that this city is God’s completed redemptive purpose, encompassing a vast number and, in fact, all intended.
Notice that the material used has purpose as well. The walls aren’t simply made of iron or stone, as one would think a literal, protecting wall should be. But rather, these walls are made of jasper and precious stones are the foundations. Thus, the picture intended is not a literal fortification, but rather a means to show God’s loving protection in purity of his truth, goodness, and beauty. Those 12 precious stones named are the same as those that stood for the 12 tribes of Israel, carried on the high priest’s breastplate as he entered the Holy of Holies to meet with God. They signified purity in relationship with God then, and they do so here in Revelation 21 as well.
The gates are each a single pearl. Of course, and again, the image is not to be taken literally. We don’t have to imagine giant oysters producing these pearls. The idea here is that pearls are precious, yet made from the irritation of some object in the oyster. They put us in mind of the suffering endured by the people of God through this time as they journeyed to enter the city of God. The suffering gives way to perfect TGB. This is the story of Revelation.
Verses 22 through 27 emphasize the sanctuary, although it begins by saying there is no sanctuary. There is no specific temple—the place where humankind met with God—because meeting with God (full relationship with him) is ever ongoing everywhere in this city. John goes on to say that the city needs no sun or moon, not to point out some cosmic disruption, but rather to say that the emphasis has shifted from our essence to God’s essence. By that I mean to say that we judge, examine, and think based on our essence. By physical light we can use our eyes to see, examine, understand, and conclude. What this verse tells us is that we will no longer place full dependence on the physical to recognize truth, but rather we will see by the light (revelation) of God.
Verse 24 has much the same thought. Nations and kings are mentioned not to describe the organizational structure of the new earth (although there may still be nations and kings in the new society’s administrative order). But rather the emphasis is on the change from nations and kings acting according to the current world’s government of selfish interest to acting according to the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. The kings come into the city. Their activity becomes the activity of God. It is relationship and its expression in love that guides and administrates.
The chapter closes telling us that the gates to this city will never close. Night symbolizes the temporary end of activity. But the activity of this city is love relationship. Thus, the figurative expression of no night means that the activity of love relationship will never cease. We have never-ending access to God, and there will be a never-ending separation from evil.
In the first five verses of chapter 22 that end this section, we find ten images. The first five remind us of the Garden of Eden before sin first entered.
Verse 1 starts with a river of living water just as Eden was fed by a river. This river comes from God and represents Spirit, life, and satisfaction. Growing from it is the tree of life (described as being on both sides but could be picturing trees around the river). That tree of life was also in Eden, representing life and relationship with God. The tree produces fruit—12 fruits (the number of judicial completion)—indicating that God supplies that which is needed for life throughout the year (the never-ending circle image of life). Leaves from the tree provide healing, which again pictures the satisfaction given by God in comparison to the wanting and hopelessness of the evil environment’s absence of God. The phrase actually ends in verse 3, telling us that there is no curse—there is no unsatisfied hole in our souls as was the result of sin in Eden.
These images are Old Testament images. We see them gathered in Ezekiel 47:12 in description of eternal life (relationship) with God: “All kinds of trees providing food will grow along both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. Each month they will bear fresh fruit because the water comes from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be used for food and their leaves for medicine.”
Verse 3 goes on to tell us, “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him.” This is not meant to indicate either oppressive rule or normal worldly rule in which a sovereign insists his servants act merely for the king’s own benefit. Psalm 89:14 tells us, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; faithful love and truth go before You.” Therefore, the idea presented is that the city is ruled by the truth, goodness, and beauty of God that is expressed in relational love. Life, by God’s throned authority, is intended for the relational joy of us all!
And that is how we are to understand the concluding verses 4 and 5. We will see his face. We will know him fully in relationship. That was Paul’s intent in 1 Corinthians 13, discussing love. Paul emphasized that in this love relationship, we see or understand it only a little—only in part—indistinctly as in a mirror. But in that new Jerusalem, we will be face to face, knowing and understanding and expressing and receiving love in its fullest beauty. We will have the name of our God written on our foreheads, symbolizing the caregiving that the head gives for the body. John here borrows Pauls head imagery from 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 1 and 5 to emphasize once again that truth, goodness, beauty provision of God for us.
Again we are told that night—the suspension of activity—will not exist. We will bask in the light of God’s love unceasingly. And we will reign—express that love—forever and ever.