Revelation 21 Commentary


In describing the state of things as it will be in eternity, John has to use the language of this world, for he has no other. He has to liken what he sees in the vision to things that his readers can see in the present world, for this is the only world they know. He has to use whatever language and illustrations he can find in an attempt to describe the spiritual quality of life in the eternal state.

John’s visions symbolize spiritual realities. They are not pictures of the physical characteristics of the new heaven and the new earth. In fact, he makes it clear that the future state of things is vastly different from the present. The heavenly city is not an improved version of the present earthly city. Life as we know it in the present world is to be completely replaced by a new order.

God dwelling with his people (21:1-8)

Usually God is pictured as dwelling in heaven and people as dwelling on earth. In the eternal state no such distinction exists, because God now dwells with his people in an order of life never before experienced. It is an order that is holy and beautiful, where God and his people live together in the closest fellowship. All this is possible because the effects of sin in the previous order have now been removed (21:1-4).

This promise of a new life encourages persecuted believers. They need not fear the future, because God is always in control. As long as they feel their need of him, he will supply that need (5-6). Those who triumph through persecution and temptation prove the genuineness of their faith, and will enjoy a specially close relationship with God their Father. Those who deny Christ through fear of persecution prove that their faith is false, and will join their tempter in the lake of fire (7-8).

New Jerusalem (21:9-21)

God’s redeemed people, who in a previous picture were seen as the bride of the Lamb (see 19:6-10; 21:2), are now symbolized by a holy city, the new Jerusalem. This city comes from God, for it was built by God. It is not something of human creation. People are saved by God’s grace, not by their own achievements (9-10).

The city is glorious and indestructible, and the people who live in it are eternally secure. All believers, whether of the era before Christ or after, are united in one company. Those of the former era, the true Israel, are represented by the names of the twelve tribes. Those of the latter era, the Christian


church, are represented by the names of the twelve apostles. Together they are God’s people and they dwell in his heavenly city. In fact, they are the city (11-14).

An angel measures the city, apparently to assure its citizens that every part of it is protected by God. He finds that the city is a perfect cube, which no doubt confirms the citizens’ assurance that everything God does is perfect. Although the realities pictured in the vision are real, the city is not like a literal city of the present physical world. (Where does one put a sixty metre high wall on a cubical city whose sides each measure 2400 kilometres?) The angel, realizing that ordinary human beings cannot imagine such a city, points out that he has used an ordinary human system of measurement to help illustrate a truth. And the truth is that the city is perfect, complete (15-17). Its worth and beauty are beyond measure – signified by its construction from the most costly and beautiful materials (18-21).

Life in the holy city (21:22-22:5)

No temple is needed in the city, because God is everywhere. Lights, whether natural or artificial, are unnecessary, because God’s glory fills every place (22-23). Other cities close their gates at night to prevent possible enemy attacks, but this city never closes its gates, because there is no night and no enemy. People of all nations inhabit the city, adding colour and splendour, yet there is complete purity, because sin is excluded (24-27).

Although the original man and woman lost the first paradise, redeemed men and women now possess the final paradise (cf. Gen 2:9-10; 3:1-24). Having been healed from the curse of sin, they can now enjoy the blessings of the tree of life that God originally intended for them. The river that flows from God and the Lamb brings life, nourishment and enjoyment to people of all nations (22:1-2; cf. Ezek 47:1-12). Life in paradise is not spent in lazy idleness, but in the active worship and service of God. The redeemed see their God, bear his name, and share his glory (3-5).

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