The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 162

The City of God

     These sinners, and the awful judgment overtaking them, will soon be forgotten amidst the glories of the holy city.  The former things have passed away and “shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17).  The most glorious aspect of the city of God, of course, will be the fact that Christ is there, and “that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3).  “And so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Revelation 21:9.     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 last previous specific reference to an angel had been from a time a thousand years earlier, when John had seen one bind Satan for his millennial incarceration in the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1).  But now a mighty angel again approaches John to give him a marvelous introduction to the beautiful city where he, along with all saints, would one day dwell.

     This is an angel who, though not identified by name, was recognized by John as one of the seven who had been chosen by God to administer the seven final plagues at the end of the tribulation period (Revelation 15:1).  In addition to the actual sending of the seven final judgments, it may be significant that six later references to angelic activities are found, with this being the seventh (Revelation 17:1; 18:1, 21; 19:10, 17; 21:1).  The first and last of these seven are said to be among the angels with the seven last plagues, so possibly the other five are as well.

     The first had instructed John to “come hither” in order to see the “great whore.”  The last tells him also to “come hither,” but this time to see “the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”  In both cases, John was shown a great city, Babylon in the first instance, Jerusalem in the second.  One he saw thrown down with violence, to disappear forever (Revelation 18:21); the other he saw coming down in glory, to endure forever.  Babylon was both a monstrous system of spiritual and political wickedness and also the literal city which served as the center and capital of that system.  Just so, the new Jerusalem is also both a glorious literal city as well as the universal tabernacle of God, an eternal and unbounded kingdom of righteousness. 

Revelation 21:10.     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. 

     The first of these seven angels had carried John away in the spirit into the wilderness, to see Babylon (Revelation 17:1); the last carries him to a great and high mountain to see Jerusalem.  In the first case he had been translated far back in time to observe Babel from its very beginnings, in the global wilderness resulting presumably from the devastations of the great Flood.  Now it seems that, in spirit, he is translated far up in space, as though on an exceedingly high mountain reaching up into heaven.  His vantage point is not actually within the city.  He had previously been privileged to “come up” into the very presence of God in the heavens (Revelation 4:1).  He had also frequently observed events taking place in both heaven and earth from that exalted position, which presumably was somewhere in the heavenly city as it remained suspended in the upper atmosphere throughout the tribulation and millennial periods.

     Now, however, he is somehow stationed outside the city, in order to observe its entire structure, and yet close enough to it so that he can record the details of its beautiful perfections.  At the beginning of the chapter (v. 2) he had noted in a simple summary statement that the holy city was coming down to the new earth, but his perspective there seemed to have been from a great distance, where he had observed the actual creation of the whole new earth and its new atmosphere.  Now the angel conveys him to a closer location, where he can watch in great wonder as the glorious city moves down past his reverent gaze. 

Revelation 21:11.     Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.

     The holy city will be like no other city.  The greatest of all human cities had been mighty Babylon, arrayed in purple and scarlet, decked with gold and precious stones (Revelation 17:4).  The new Jerusalem, on the other hand, is arrayed in radiant light, shining with the glory of God.  The “Shekinah glory” had filled the ancient tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) and the temple of Solomon (2 Chronicles 5:14).  When the Lord Jesus had “tabernacled among us,” the glory of God had been manifested in a different sense, “and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Now, finally and forever, the tabernacle of God is with men (v. 3), and His glorious presence will illumine the new Jerusalem, both spiritually and physically, as long as God Himself endures.

     The appearance of the city is, no doubt, more glorious than human language can describe.  John can only compare it to a very precious jasper stone (Revelation 4:3).  The radiant light was “clear as crystal.”  A little later, John would note that the river of water of life is also “clear as crystal”  (Revelation 22:1).  The Lord Jesus is the very “brightness of his glory” (Hebrews 1:3), the “light of the world” (John 8:12), and the “living water” (John 7:38).  The city of God is the bride of the Lamb, and she must be arrayed in fitting apparel for the ages to come, properly “adorned for her husband” (v. 2).  She must, in fact, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14), sharing His glory, reflecting His light, and enjoying His presence forever. 

Revelation 21:12.     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. 

     As the city draws nearer to John’s observation post on his lofty summit, he sees emerging through the clear crystal radiance a majestic wall surrounding the city, evidently extending as high as the great height of the city itself.  Unlike earthly cities, however, the wall is not for protection from enemies, for its gates are always open, and there are no enemies to fear.  No doubt is speaks of strength and eternal security, but perhaps most of all it is a structure of transcending beauty.

     In the wall are twelve gates and, although their dimensions are not given, it is likely that each extends nearly to the top of the lofty wall, making access to the city easy at all levels.  Most significant is the identification of the gates with the names of the children of Israel.  This fact certainly assures us that the godly men and women of ancient Israel will be residents of the city and thus are included among those in the heavenly bride.

     But also the names on the entry gates will be an eternal reminder that it was first of all through the patriarchal ministry of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, with the twelve sons of Israel, that we Gentiles first entered into the great family and city of God.  It was the Israelites “to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.  Amen.” (Romans 9:4, 5).

     Furthermore, attending perpetually at each gate will be one of God’s holy angels.  They will not be guarding angels, of course, since there is no longer any need for angelic protection, but will be ministering spirits, ministering as needed to all “the heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1:14) entering or leaving the city.  Since there is “an innumerable company of angels” attached to “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22), it seems likely, although this is only a deduction – not a specific teaching – that there will be a continual rotation of these heavenly ministers assigned to these gates of the beautiful city, each ready to go and serve whenever and wherever needed. 

Revelation 21:13.     On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. 

     The gates were to be symmetrically situated, three in each of the four walls, possibly in commemoration of the wilderness tabernacle, with three tribes encamped outside each wall.  Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun were “far off about the tabernacle,” pitching “on the east side toward the rising of the sun” (Numbers 2:1-9). On the south side were Reuben, Simeon, and Gad (Numbers 2:10-16).  Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin encamped on the west side (Numbers 2:18-24), and Dan, Asher, and Naphtali (Numbers 2:25-31) on the north.  The Levites, not numbered with the twelve, were immediately around the tabernacle, between the tabernacle and the other tribes, in order to do the service of the tabernacle.  Moses and Aaron and his sons were on the east side (Numbers 3:38), the family of Gershon on the west (Numbers 3:23), Kohath on the south (Numbers 3:29) and Merari on the north (Numbers 3:35).

     The order of enumeration is different from the order of the tribal names on the gates in the wall of Jerusalem during the millennium (Ezekiel 48:31-34).  As far as the order of the gates in the wall of the new Jerusalem are concerned, there is therefore probably no particular significance to be attached to it, except that the east gate is here mentioned first, symbolic perhaps of the rising sun.  At the wilderness tabernacle, Moses and the priests were on the east and, outside of them, the messianic tribe of Judah. 

Revelation 21:14.     And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 

     As the wall has twelve gates, so it also has twelve strong foundations, deep and secure, transmitting the weight of the great wall down to the solid bedrock of the new earth.  One foundation at each corner, plus two in each wall (located between the wall’s three gates), is no doubt the pattern employed.  This, indeed, is the “city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10), and its foundations are secure on the Rock of ages (Isaiah 26:4; Matthew 7:24, 25).

     The names of the twelve apostles inscribed on the foundations surely give testimony that those redeemed by the Lamb reside in the city, as the names of Israel’s sons on the gates likewise assure that the saved of ancient Israel are there, too.  “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Ephesians 2:14).  “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21).  The analogy between the spiritual temple of God now being erected by the Holy Spirit, composed of living believers, and the heavenly tabernacle pitched by God and now coming to earth, is clear and beautiful.

Revelation 21:15.     And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. 

     The one talking with John is, of course, the angel, who had carried him to the high mountain.  In order to impress upon him the tremendous dimensions of the city, the angel actually measures it before his eyes, using a distinctive measuring rod which, like so much else in the city, was made of gold, but fine and thin like a reed.  A similar reed, though evidently not of gold, had been used to measure the temple of the tribulation period (Revelation 11:1).  In both cases, the measuring process speaks also of a standard of evaluation and judgment.  In the cast of apostate Jerusalem the temple and its worshipers failed to measure up to God’s standard and their dimensions were not even recorded.  Consequently, they were brought under God’s chastening.  With the new Jerusalem, however, all the dimensions are measured and carefully recorded, fully satisfying God’s highest standards of perfection.

     The new Jerusalem is composed of such beautiful materials, such unique construction and such amazing dimensions as to be almost beyond human comprehension.  It would all be impossible to believe, except that its builder and maker is God and He has carefully had it recorded in His Word.  The city is so huge, its wall so majestic, its gates so magnificent as to transcend all imagination, and God must even have a mighty angel carefully measure and delineate it, for John’s benefit and for ours.  Even so, with all its detailed measurement and description, most commentators still refuse to believe that the account means what it says, seeking by many and varied stratagems of interpretation to make it all an allegory or a parable of some kind.  All such devices flounder, of course, upon these very details of measurement and description. 

Revelation 21:16.     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.

     As the angel proceeds to measure the city, John can see directly that the plan of the city is that of a square.  The term “foursquare” is the Greek tetragonos (literally “fourangled,” a term used to mean equal angles).  Further, the measurements confirm that the sides are all equal, as well as the angles, with each dimension no less than 12,000 “furlongs” (that is, stadia, a Greek measure corresponding to 600 Greek feet, or approximately 607 English feet).  In terms of miles, this would make the dimensions of the base of the city each 1,380 miles in length.

     Never, of course, was there ever a city like this!  If it were to be superimposed upon the United States, its area would cover all the way from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Atlantic Ocean to Colorado.

     Furthermore, its height is the same as its width and breadth, the whole comprising a gigantic cubical structure 1,380 miles on every side.  A number of writers have interpreted the city to be like a pyramid in shape, with the height of the pyramid equal to the dimensions of its base.  Such an interpretation is quite forced, however, the language of the passage being much more naturally understood to mean a cube, with the length and breadth and height all the same.  Such a shape was long ago associated with the sacred presence of God, suggesting the attributes of tri-unity as it does.  That is, the fundamental cosmic entity of space is a genuine trinity.  Space must be composed of three dimensions, but each dimension pervades all space.  Space is always referenced to the first dimension (length), but can only be seen in terms of two dimensions (area = length squared) and experienced in three dimensions (volume = length cubed).  Similarly, the Godhead is referenced to the Father, seen in the Son, experienced in the Holy Spirit.

     The pyramidal shape, on the other hand (whether as in Egypt, Mexico, or the stepped-towers of practically all ancient nations), seems always to have been associated with paganism, with the pyramid’s apex being dedicated to the worship of the sun, or the host of heaven.  The first such structure was the Tower of Babel, and the Bible always later condemns worship carried out in high places (Leviticus 26:30) whether these were simply natural high hills or artificially constructed hills in the form of a pyramid or ziggurat.

     The cube, on the other hand, was the shape specified by God for the holy place, or the oracle, in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:20), where God was to “dwell” between the cherubim.  Both the language and the symbology thus favor the cubical, rather than the pyramidal, shape.

     It should also be remembered that the new bodies of the resurrected saints will be like those of angels, no longer limited by gravitational or electromagnetic forces as at present.  Thus it will be easy for the inhabitants to travel vertically as horizontally, in the new Jerusalem.  Consequently, the “streets” of the city (verse 21) may well include vertical passageways as well as horizontal avenues, and the “blocks” could be real cubical blocks, instead of square areas between streets as in a present-day earthly city.

     This kind of geometry makes it easier to understand how all the redeemed of all the ages could be domiciled in a single city.  Although there is no way to know precisely how many people will be there, one can make at least an order-of-magnitude estimate.  It can be calculated that the total number of people who have lived between Adam’s time and our time is about 40 billion (see Biblical Cosmology and Modern Science, by Henry M. Morris, Craig Press, 1969, pp 72-83).  Then, assuming that a similar number will be born during the millennium, and allowing another 20 billion for those who died before or soon after birth, it is reasonable that about 100 billion men, women, and children will be members of the human race – past, present or future.

     Assume also that 20 percent of these will be saved, including those who die in infancy. This is obviously only a guess, but the Lord Jesus did make it plain that the large majority will never be saved (Matthew 7:13, 14).  If this figure is used, then the new Jerusalem would have to accommodate 20 billion residents.  Also, assume that 25 percent of the city is used for the “mansions” of these inhabitants (John 14:2), with the rest allocated to streets, parks, public buildings, etc.  Then the average space assigned to each person would be:


             1380  (1380)  (1380)     1 cubic mile


 4  (20)  (1,000,000,000)    30

This would correspond to a cubical “block” with about seventy-five acres on each face. Obviously, there is adequate room in the holy city for all who will be there.  Another way of measuring the size would be that the average length (or width, or height) of each person’s block would be a little over a third of a mile in each direction.  Some, no doubt, would have larger amounts, some smaller, but this would be about the average size.    

Revelation 21:17.     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. 

     The angel, assuming the appearance of a man, uses an ordinary measure of length based on the typical size of a man, in making his measurements.  In the ancient world it was common practice to use a measure equal to the length of a man’s forearm, from elbow to middle finger tip, and this was called a “cubit.”  When standardized, this is believed by most authorities to have become recognized at about eighteen inches.  Probably the golden reed used by the angel was about two cubits long, like a yardstick.

     He had already measured the length and height of the city’s walls, finding them to be each 12,000 stadia, or 1,380 miles.  Now he also measures the wall itself, showing it to be 144 cubits, or about 216 feet in thickness.  No other wall was ever so thick.  However, this wall is also the highest wall ever built, and its great thickness seems almost miniscule in comparison to its height.

     Most commentators have, for some reason, interpreted the 144 cubits to represent the height of the wall, but if this were the case, the stipulated height of the city itself is meaningless.  The latter must at least represent the vertical dimensions of the structures at the outer edges of the city, in which case a wall 216 feet high surrounding structures 1,380 miles high would seem pointless, especially since the wall is not needed for protection. It is far more likely that the thickness is 144 cubits.

     The recurrence of the number twelve in these verses is striking – twelve angels, twelve gates, twelve foundations, twelve thousand stadia, a wall of twelve squared cubits in thickness.  Twelve, like seven, seems to represent completeness, but particularly completeness in terms of God’s administrative subdivisions of a corporate whole. 

Revelation 21:18.     And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. 

     The dimensions of the wall are amazing, but the construction material is even more amazing.  The entire building (“structure,” the only occurrence in the New Testament) of the immense wall is of beautiful jasper stone.  The exact nature of the jasper stone is uncertain, but it was renowned in the ancient world.  Its name has been essentially transliterated from both the Hebrew (yashpeh) and Greek (iaspis), as well as other languages, but it still is unidentified today.  It was one of the stones in the breastplate of the high priest (Exodus 28:20; 39:13) and in the heavenly Eden (Ezekiel 28:13).  Its association with the sardine stone (Revelation 4:3) and with the clear crystal (Revelation 21:11), together with extrabiblical references, suggests that it was a fine translucent stone, capable of different colors, primarily radiant white but also with flashing fiery red and purple tints.  In any case, there can be little doubt that the majestic wall of the city will be brilliantly beautiful.

     Even more glorious than the wall is the city itself.  Both the buildings and the streets (v. 21) of the city are made of gold.  In the present world, gold is the most precious of metals, the standard of all currencies and the greatest of all objects of human greed and conflict.  In the new Jerusalem, however, the very streets are paved with gold and the buildings are plastered with gold.  The most beautiful and valuable of metals is now the most abundant of metals!  And, like the primeval Havilah (Genesis 2:11, 12), “the gold of that land is good.”  The gold of heaven is so good and so flawless that, like the jasper stone, it is crystal clear, reflecting golden beams of brilliance from every surface.  The words “pure” and “clear” in this verse are the same Greek word (katharos), speaking of the flawless perfection of the materials of the city.

Revelation 21:19.     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.

     Beneath the giant walls are interspersed twelve great foundations (v. 14), inserted between the twelve gates.  Like the wall itself, these massive foundations are constructed of precious stones.  Each foundation consists of one particular type of stone, but apparently that stone is itself trimmed with many other different kinds of precious stones, so that the whole scene is magnificently beautiful.

     There are twelve different gemstones for the twelve foundations, with each stone inscribed, perhaps using other precious stones, with the name of one of the twelve apostles (v. 14).  There seems no way, however, of identifying the stone that corresponds to each apostle.  Similarly, there is no apparent correlation with the order of the precious stones in the priestly breastplate (Exodus 28:17-20) or the stones in the heavenly garden (Ezekiel 28:13), although a number of the stones are the same in both instances (the Ezekiel listing includes only nine precious stones, plus gold).  Six stones are in all three lists (jasper, sapphire, emerald, sardius, beryl, and topaz).  No particular patterns or reasons for the particular sequences seem discernible at this time.

     The first foundation, like the wall which it supports, is of jasper, presumably reflecting a different hue than that of the wall.  The beautiful and hard blue sapphire constitutes the second foundation, and the third is a chalcedony (only occurrence in Bible), a copper-colored stone.  An emerald stone is the first foundation in the second wall, radiant in its shining green color, like the divine throne itself (Revelation 4:3). 

Revelation 21:20.     The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.

     The sardonyx is a variety of onyx, with deep red layers (“sard,” derived from the Sardis region in ancient Lydia) interspersed with white.  The sixth foundation, sardius, is probably the same as the sardine stone (Revelation 4:3), a brilliant red stone of chalcedony quartz.

     On the next wall are three foundations of chrysolyte, beryl and topaz, respectively.  The chrysolyte (“gold stone”) is probably not the present stone of that name, but could have been any yellow-hued gem.  The beryl is also a yellow stone, probably the same as our modern beryl.  The topaz likewise is a yellow gem, though possibly different from the stone presently recognized by that name.

     The fourth wall rests on foundations of chrysoprasus, jacinth and amethyst.  The chrysoprase (mentioned only this once in the Bible) is probably a gold-tinted green gemstone.  The jacinth (= “hyacinth”) is believed to represent a blue stone, possibly aquamarine or turquoise.  Finally, the amethyst is undoubtedly the same as the beautiful purple stone known by that name today.

     There is considerable uncertainty about the exact identity of most of these foundation stones, but perhaps even this is intentional.  The purpose of John’s description is surely to impress upon us the indescribable glories and beauties of the holy city, reflecting its heavenly light in the translucent white and rainbow hues of its mighty jasper wall, resting upon great and brilliant foundations containing every imaginable color and variety of the most beautiful materials that an omnipotent God can manufacture. 

Revelation 21:21.     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. 

     Although the description is not specific enough for us to be sure, it seems probable that these twelve gates extend upward through the entire height of the great walls, thus permitting access at all levels.  The gates are never closed (v. 25), so they really constitute merely great openings in the wall.  But each doorway, framed along the sides and over the crest of each gate, is one magnificent shimmering pure body of flawless pearl!

     Through these pearly gates, at many levels, will pass for endless ages streams of holy angels and glorified saints, going in and out on the business of the King.  One can picture, for example, the delightful homecoming of one of the King’s “servants” (Revelation 22:3) who has been dispatched on a mission of exploration and development in some distant galaxy.  After a long absence, he begins the long journey earthward.  Traveling through space at angelic speeds, far greater than the velocity of light, though still at some finite speed, he enters the Milky Way galaxy and soon approaches the solar system. Slowing down in order to better savor the beauty of the earth as he draws near to it, he soon sees the fair planet with its soft vistas of blue and green beckoning him.

     And then he sees the City!  One would have to view it from a great distance, of course, really to see it in its full grandeur.  The city is far too large for one to see the whole of its beauty otherwise.  From the outer reaches of the new heavens, however (that is, the new atmosphere), he will be able to revel in its magnificence.

     The great jasper wall, clear and glowing white in its soft, yet shimmering, hues, with the jeweled foundations imparts unimaginably beautiful rainbow colorings along its lower reaches.  The shining pearl entrances, traversing its height through the intervals between the foundations, all will display the most beautiful panorama to be found in the entire universe, welcoming home the trusted emissary of the mighty King.

     Then, as he approaches the wall, he will probably direct his flight toward the gate and the level nearest his own “mansion” (John 14:2), there to dine and rest and prepare for his coming audience with the Lord, where he will eventually make his report and receive further instruction.

     As he enters the gate, passing through the wide wall, the transcendent beauty of the city itself will meet his eyes.  The “street” of the city, which undoubtedly is really a great, three-dimensional network of avenues, is everywhere lined with the most pure gold, so pure that it is as transparent as clear glass.  How this can be, we do not understand, but John saw it and assures us that it is so.  The street is strong and solid, with the beautiful sunshine color of the finest gold, but nevertheless is translucent to the radiant light which everywhere permeates the city.

     There is far more to the city than golden streets, of course.  There are waterways and trees (Revelation 22:1, 2) and therefore beautiful parks, with occasional clear vistas to the starry heavens above.  There are magnificent public buildings, no doubt, as well as homes for all of the saints, and many more things than we can now imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9). 

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