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

Jerusalem a secure city

In the OT, prayer for Jerusalem’s peace, her ‘shalom’ was urged (Ps 122:6). Earthly Jerusalem, however, knew little of this peace. In fact, finally she rejected her peace completely (Lk 19:41,42) and even yet does not know peace. Jerusalem’s peace does not belong to earthly Jerusalem but to the heavenly Jerusalem. John does not use the word peace to describe the new Jerusalem but his description of the city implies its total well-being. God’s people finally know lasting peace.

Fundamental to a sense of well-being is security. We all need a sense of security to flourish. Ancient cities built walls to protect the inhabitants. However, none were sufficient to provide true security. The walls of John’s city are massively high ( around 1400 miles.., 12000 stadia). They appear to be 144 cubits thick. The numbers are evidently stylised and symbolic however the vast dimensions of the wall clearly suggest impregnability while 12 and it’s multiples in Revelation are generally considered to represent perfection; the city is perfectly secure. Furthermore, the walls of jasper with foundations of precious stones suggest the glory of God; God himself in his glory keeps his people secure (Cf. Ps 125:2, Ps 3:3-5, Zech 2:5, Isa 4:5,6).

A measuring line was symbolically used to designate either judgement or protection. Here the measuring of the city and its walls (21:15-17) further signifies divine protection (Zech 2:1-5, Rev 11:1,2; Ezek 40:3). The city is inviolable. God’s people are eternally secure. Perhaps that is why Isaiah speaks of the eschatological city’s walls as ‘salvation’ (Isa 26:1, 60:18). God’s salvation gives eternal security. Here is a city that truly reaches to the heavens from which it came.

In fact, in one sense the city has no need of walls for there is no danger from without (Isa 54:14). We are told its gates are continuously open. Indeed, Zechariah describes it as a city without walls (Zech 2:4,5). We must remember we are dealing with fluid and adaptable images.

Jerusalem the world-city

The open gates on every side of the city seem to suggest that the city is open and welcoming and that there is no threat from any direction (though, even here, an angel is a each gate perhaps to guard). Which brings us to an image that is challenging to interpret.

We read

By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

How are we to understand this image? In what sense do the nations walk by its light and bring their glory into it if the city already encompasses the complete people of God? It is possible this describes a millennial scene. Against this is the immediate context of a new heavens and new earth. All that is associated with fallen creation has gone – all things are new. This does not sit easily with millennial conditions. It is also difficult to accept that while vv1-8 describe the eternal state vv9-22:5 reverts back to millennial conditions since both sections in almost identical language describe the New Jerusalem descending from heaven (21:2, 9,10) and a reversion to the millennium would seem an anti-climax. Yet it is possible the vision of the New Jerusalem bridges both the millennial and the eternal. This, remember, is John’s final vision.

Perhaps this is a case where we must look at the OT allusion to understand what John is conveying. There, Jerusalem, in the last days, is the hub of the earth. All nations are drawn to it and made welcome (open gates) as they come to worship the God of Israel. Like the Queen of Sheba who hearing of the glories of Solomon and the Jerusalem he had built came bringing homage and gifts (2 Chron 9:1) so the nations come to the eschatological city. Isaiah 60 is the background and worth quoting extensively

1 Arise, shine, for your light has come,

and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the LORD will arise upon you,

and his glory will be seen upon you.

3 And nations shall come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your rising.

4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see;

they all gather together, they come to you;

your sons shall come from afar,

and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.

5 Then you shall see and be radiant;

your heart shall thrill and exult,

because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,

the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,

the young camels of Midian and Ephah;

all those from Sheba shall come.

They shall bring gold and frankincense,

and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD.

7 All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;

they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,

(ESV) 8 Who are these that fly like a cloud,

and like doves to their windows?

9 For the coastlands shall hope for me,

the ships of Tarshish first,

to bring your children from afar,

their silver and gold with them,

for the name of the LORD your God,

and for the Holy One of Israel,

because he has made you beautiful.

(ESV) 10 Foreigners shall build up your walls,

and their kings shall minister to you;”

for in my wrath I struck you,

but in my favour I have had mercy on you.

11 Your gates shall be open continually;

day and night they shall not be shut,

that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations,

with their kings led in procession.

12 For the nation and kingdom

that will not serve you shall perish;

those nations shall be utterly laid waste.

13 The glory of Lebanon shall come to you,

the cypress, the plane, and the pine,

to beautify the place of my sanctuary,

and I will make the place of my feet glorious.

14 The sons of those who afflicted you

shall come bending low to you,

and all who despised you

shall bow down at your feet;

they shall call you the City of the LORD,

the Zion of the Holy One of Israel. (Cf. Isa 2:2, 56:1-8, 61:4-62:12)

A cursory reading of ch 60 (and 56, 61, 62) reveals many parallels with Rev 21. The angel who was involved in the thick darkness (the seven bowls) has revealed the city of light (v9)… Jerusalem is a city set on a hill that attracts others to it.

In the NT, this OT image of the nations from all over the world flowing to Jerusalem attracted to her God begins to be fulfilled in the gospel. Gentiles are called to Christ and find their home in the ‘Jerusalem above’ giving to it their allegiance and lives (Gals 4n Jn 12:32). They come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebs 12:22). Perhaps, like the Samaritan woman, we must remember that ‘salvation is of the Jews’ (Jn 4:22). Jerusalem was the capital city of Israel. In John’s vision its twelve gates are the twelve tribes and its foundations are the twelve (Jewish) apostles. The Olive tree was Jewish in origin – its natural branches were Jewish. It was through Israel that the nations would hear and believe and be grafted in to the tree by God’s grace bringing their contribution to the people of God (Roms 11). The twelve gates to the city (named after each tribe of Israel) provide access for the nations to the city; Israel is God’s gateway to blessing for all nations from all points of the compass (Lk 13:29).

Yet, of course, John is not describing the gospel age but the final consummation. However, is his purpose to echo the OT prediction of Jerusalem as a cosmopolitan city? To it the nations have come. Again, we must remember we are not looking at a literal city but a symbolic representation of God dwelling in and among his people on a new earth in a renewed creation. Images are being drawn to teach important truths about God and his people dwelling together in new creation. We don’t need to ask for the ‘pearly gates’ to be opened… they are always open for those who love and worship the Lord, his servants, from ‘all tribes, peoples and languages’ (7:9). Indeed we are told in ch 22,

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

Again millennial conditions may be described. Perhaps it’s wise not to be dogmatic. Whatever the exact interpretation the principle surely holds good; here in the heavenly city is a blessedness and glory that attracts all nations. There is nothing of the night in the city only divine life and light and the glory of these drawn the nations and brought to fulfilment the promise to Abraham that through him the nations of the world would be blessed (Gen 12:1-3). Perhaps this is why the covenant promise is in the plural in Revelation – ‘they shall be his peoples‘ (21:3). Certainly Eden is surpassed. In Eden there was potential danger – there was the serpent. Here nothing unholy can enter. There is no trace of the curse (22:3). In every conceivable way God’s people are secure… there is nothing to harm or destroy on God’s holy mountain (Isa 65:25). This is salvation’s city (Isa 26:1, 62:1-3).

This is our city… our home.


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