revelation 21:1-22:5… the new jerusalem, a temple-city (4)

Jerusalem a temple-city

If the centre of the new creation is a city of splendour then the source of its splendour is the glory of God. If the holy city is the people of God living in community and culture then what dominates is this community or culture is the beneficent and glorious reign of God. The glory of the city is her God. It is the presence of God in and among his people that makes the city radiant. The glory of God is John’s first impression on seeing the city.

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God… (Cf. Isa 60:1, Zach 2:1-5).

We should note the location of this city which has its origins in heaven – it comes down to earth (Cf. v16). The final home of God’s people is a renewed earth.

God’s glory is its defining feature. The city is radiant… like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal (v11). Its walls are jasper while the city was ‘pure gold, like clear glass‘ (v18). There is a purity and clarity, a brilliance, that illumines the city. Jasper (some say reddish in colour) in Revelation describes God himself (4:3). The dominant presence and glory of God is clearly the very heart of the new Jerusalem. Some understand the twelve precious stones that form part of the city’s walls to be further expressions of God’s glory revealed in his people. The gems not only connect to Isaiah’s vision of the eschatological city* (Isa 54:11,12) but to Eden** (Ezek 28:13,14) and to the high Priest’s breastplate where they represent the people of God taken by the High Priest into the presence of God (Ex 25:17-21). They contrast too with the compromised and fleeting wealth of Babylon (18:16,17).

John’s city has no need of sun or moon for its light is the glory of God and its lamp is the Lamb (contrasting with the darkness of judged Babylon where no light or lamp is to be found forever 18:23). Here, as elsewhere, John is drawing from the OT (Isa 60:19,20). It is hard to avoid the conclusion that John’s new Jerusalem is the OT’s eschatological city.

The crystal-like divine radiance is found too in the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of God and the lamb (22:1). Here the allusion to Ezekiel’s temple suggests that the new Jerusalem and Ezekiel’s temple (Ezek 47:1-12) both refer to the same reality while the twelve gates echo the gates of Ezekiel’s city (Ezek 48:30,34). Once again parallels point to shared identity.

There is, however, in John’s Jerusalem a significant discontinuity with OT descriptions of the eschatological Jerusalem; the city we are expressly told has no temple (v22). At first reading this is astonishing for it was the presence of the temple as the house of God that made Jerusalem attractive and glorious to his OT people. Ezekiel’s majestic dominant Jerusalem temple magnified the glory of God among his people. Yet John’s city apparently has no temple. It seems NT revelation, where both Christ (Jn 1:14) and God’s people are the temple (Eph 2:20-22, 1 Pet 2:5), has shaped this distinction for we learn that the holy city’s temple is ‘the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb‘ (the last of seven references to the Lord God Almighty, a title and number underlining his total sovereignty)… note too, the high trinitarian view of Christ who shares the temple and throne **22:1).

Significantly, John’s city is cubic (21:16) and it seems only one other edifice in Scripture was cubic – the Holiest Place, the inner sanctum of the temple where God dwelt (1 Kings 6:20). There only the high Priest could enter and that but once a year; even then a cloud of incense hid the glory of God. God dwelt among his people in a temple served to separate God from his people; he was separate and his glory was hidden.

In John’s city there is no such separation. The whole city is a temple, a massive holy of Holies. God’s people themselves are his dwelling place. In Solomon’s temple the whole temple including the inner sanctum was overlaid with gold (2 Chron 3:4 Cf Ex 25). Here the whole city is solid gold. The entire city is the dwelling place of God. God dwells immediately in unconcealed glory in and among his people. His glory is not hidden but shining. Presently due to the death of Christ the separating veil in the temple is torn down and by faith we have access into the presence of God. But what we enjoy today by faith (often disturbed by sin) will in the new creation be a physical reality; God’s glorified people will inhabit and exhibit the pervasive glory of God.

We sometimes ask what activities will we have in the new creation. We are thinking about what will bring us eternal joy. No doubt there will be many joys. The ‘city’ connotes society and human culture while the ‘temple’ connotes worship and adoration. However, without the temple dimension – the divine effusive presence- the city would be lustreless. The real joy of heaven will be the presence of God and Christ in fully revealed glory (Jn 17:24). God’s glory is the unveiled majesty of who he is in himself. It is his excellence irradiating his people. It is God in his glory that will eternally ravish our hearts. The Creator is more excellent than the creation just as the builder of a house is more excellent than the house. It is life with the bridegroom that will thrill and delight. He wants us to be with him, to see his glory, delight and even share in it. Even now, as we grow in grace, we increasingly learn that our deepest joy is in the Lord. He is the river of living water (Jer 2:13). All his people’s springs are in him (Ps 87:7). He is our abundant tree of life. Psalm 16 sums up the desires of the redeemed heart,

11 You make known to me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

If the city is filled with the divine glory then it is also blessed with the divine shalom… but that is a future post.

*Note that the city is simply called ‘Jerusalem’ not ‘new Jerusalem’, identifying it even more closely with Isaiah’s Jerusalem.

**Although no doubt God would have fellowship with Adam and Eve… the reference to him walking in the garden in the cool of the day suggests this may have been normal, nevertheless, the one occasion where we read of him doing so is signalling impending judgement as Adam and Eve know (Gen 3:8)

**OT and indeed NT descriptions of God’s people in the consummation are by analogy. The descriptions are not intended to be understood completely literally. They are pictures based on a world they knew and through the Spirit reimagined to convey an insight into coming glory. We are to ask what theological truth the image is conveying rather than insisting it is the verbal equivalent of a photograph. No doubt greater nuance in definition is required nevertheless the fluidity of imagery it is easier to grasp that John’s city although based on OT images of the same city, has no temple while OT descriptions of the city have a temple. John’s city is a particularly clear example of symbolism and imagery. Little is literal though all is real.


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