Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23


This text has some things in common with last Sunday's text, but gives us more information.  In both texts Jerusalem is called the holy city which comes down out of heaven from God.  But here it is not called  "new."  Perhaps that is because it is not compared with the first creation.  Verses 11-14 and 22-23 supplement what was said in verses 1-5, last Sunday's text.

So far as we know, St. Paul was the only mere human being who was granted a glimpse of Paradise.  He tells us about this in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4.  He saw this quite apart from a vision like that of John.  Paul says that on that occasion he heard inexpressible words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.  John was granted a look at heaven, Paradise, in a vision.  He was allowed to tell us about it in symbolical language.  But we puzzle over some of the descriptions.  We shall note them as we go along.

Lenski: How, then, shall we conceive the new earth and this city?  This is beyond mortal conception in reality; even the symbolism of the vision already transcends conception.  The symbolism only shadows forth what is far greater than itself.

We cannot comprehend the wonders and beauty of everlasting life.  But we are told enough to comfort ourselves midst our many afflictions and griefs, especially our own sins and sinfulness.  Jesus went to prepare a place for us and when He returns He will take us to Himself.

Rev 21:10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

Do the words  "spirit"  denote the Holy Spirit or the spirit of John?  Commentators and translators are divided on this matter.

Franzmann: The Spirit makes visible to the prophet from afar the beauty which no eye of man can see.

But Lenski:

He bore me away in spirit' repeats 17:3; 'in spirit' is the same phrase that occurs in 1:10 and 4:2, and refers to John's spirit and not to the Holy Spirit.

In any case, the word likely indicates the difference between what Paul saw and John's vision.

Mounce: That the city comes down from God means that the eternal blessedness is not an achievement of man but a gift from God.

From verse 2 John is repeating the thought that now the eternal abode of God and the eternal home of the redeemed in Christ forever become one unit.  Note Matthew 4:8 and 4:5.  Look in your concordance for references to the Holy City and to high mountains.

Rev 21:11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

Here the word  "glory"  is the fulfillment of Isaiah 60:1-3.

Franzmann: Only the rarest and brightest of created things, a jewel 'like a jasper' but crystal-clear and translucent, can serve as a comparison for this glory.
Kretzmann: This glory will pervade and permeate the Church in eternal life.
Mounce: The point of comparison is the brilliance and sparkle of the gem.  The reference could be to the diamond.
Lenski: In verses 1-8 it is THE BLESSEDNESS of God's union and communion with his people which is emphasized by the three WITH phrases in verse 3.  Now it is the GLORY that is revealed.

He suggests that  "glory"  means all of God's divine attributes. Peter, James and John had a foretaste of this glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, Luke 9:32.  They saw Jesus' glory and Moses and Elijah in the state of glory.

Rev 21:12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.

The syntax of the book of Revelation has been called choppy and anomalous.

Lenski: The description continues in verses 12-14 with brief strokes by discarding the use of finite sentences.  We, too, often write thus and thereby vividly point to this and to that great feature.  The parts of this verse are perfectly in order when standing alone.

In this verse we are told about the great, high wall, the twelve gate-towers, the twelve angels, and the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Though out the New Testament era commentators have puzzled over the significance of the word  "wall."  Some said it was Christ Himself.  Others called it the invincible foundation of faith, hope and love.

Swete: The wall is, perhaps, a conventional feature, necessary to the description of an ancient city.
Franzmann: From that unpromising beginning, of twelve tribes, has come this high-walled radiant fortress with its twelve gates guarded by twelve angels, as impregnable as it is bright, for all that the twelve gates open in all directions to all the world.
Kretzmann: The heavenly Jerusalem is safe against all enemies, for her walls are great and high, and her twelve gates are guarded by strong angels.
Mounce: The mention of a wall is not to suggest the necessity of security precautions in the eternal state.  The wall is simply part of the description of an ideal city as conceived by ancient peoples accustomed to the security of strong outer walls.
Lenski: Why the wall?  Let us call it the symbol of INCLUSION for this our eternal union with God.
Mounce: In John's vision the gates which bear the names of the twelve tribes are entrances for all the people of the earth whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life, Revelation 21:24-27.  The twelve gates symbolize abundant entrance.
Lenski: The 'portals' or 'gates' signify ENTRANCE into eternal and glorious union with God.
Swete: The city which descends from heaven has celestial gatekeepers.
Mounce: The twelve angels are celestial gatekeepers and may reflect the Isaianic picture of watchmen upon the walls of Jerusalem, Isaiah 62:6.  They belong to the concept of an ideal city.
Swete: The Seer's object in referring to the Tribes is simply to assert the continuity of the Christian Church with the Church of the Old Testament.
Kretzmann: The twelve tribes are mentioned because the Church of Christ is the spiritual Israel in its perfection.
Lenski: The 'names' on the 'portals' are those of God's CHOSEN PEOPLE. We know all about these names from chapter 7; they are used for the 144,000 sealed ones, for the whole UNA SANCTA that is now entered into glory 'a great multitude which no man can number,' 7:9.

Rev 21:13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.

There are three gate-towers on each side, totalling twelve.  At Numbers 2:3ff we read of the tribes of Israel on the four sides of the camp.  At Ezekiel 48:31-34 we read of the city having three gates on each side, one gate for each tribe of Israel.

Lenski: The three gates on each of the four sides of the wall denote catholicity, namely that of Matthew 8:11; 28:19; Mark 16:15, as also Revelation 21:24 states.

Note that the number twelve occurs three times in verse 12 and three times in verse 14.

Old Concordia Bible with Notes:  Twelve is the symbol of God's people. Compare the twelve tribes of the Old, and the twelve apostles of the New Testament.  Hence this number prevails in the description of the new Jerusalem.

Rev 21:14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

In verse 12, which has the number  "twelve"  three times, the gate-towers bore the names of the twelve tribes.  In verse 14, which also has  "twelve"  three times, the foundation stones bear the names of the twelve apostles.  We are immediately reminded of two passages:

  1.  Hebrews 11:10: 'For he, Abraham, was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.' Abraham looked forward to everlasting life.

  2.  Ephesians 2:20: 'Having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.'

Swete: As the wall gives form and compactness to the City, so that Apostolic Church is conditioned, through the ages, by the preaching and work of the Apostolate.
Franzmann: The roots struck in Israel have spread to all the world.
Lenski: There is no union with God in eternity save for those who now rest their souls on the Word of the Lamb.
(Note: The following verses are not included in the sermon text)
Rev 21:15 The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. Rev 21:16 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. Rev 21:17 He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man's measurement, which the angel was using. Rev 21:18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. Rev 21:19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, Rev 21:20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. Rev 21:21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

Rev 21:22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

Note the repetition of the articles:  "THE Lord, THE God, THE Almighty and THE Lamb, etc."  God and Christ will be all in all.

Mounce: Ezekiel spent seven chapters describing the restored temple and its ordinance, Ezekiel 40-44.  For John there is no temple because symbol has given way to reality. The temple is replaced by 'the Lord God Almighty, and the Lamb.'
Lenski: On the old earth God had an earthly Sanctuary where Israel could draw near to him, where, however, a veil hung between him and them.  When the use for this material Sanctuary was at an end, the Sanctuary and the Lamb were in God's heaven, altogether removed from the old earth.  Now the Lord God, the Almighty, is this city's Sanctuary, he and the Lamb.  The eternal union is immediate, absolutely complete.  The whole city is the Sanctuary.
Kretzmann: When we reach the consummation of our hopes in eternal life, we shall no longer be obliged to have any means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments; for we shall see God face to face and shall know Him even as we are known, 1 Corinthians 13:12.

Rev 21:23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.

Compare 22:5. The fifth stanza of the hymn  "As With Gladness Men of Old"  is based on this text:

In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King! (TLH #127)

Note that the glory of God and the Lamp, which is the Lamb, are equated, reminding us of the divinity of Jesus and also of the fact that He is the Light of the world, John 8:12.  But in heaven we won't even need the Gospel.  For us to see the naked glory of God and the brilliant Lamp of Christ and for us to receive all needed energy from this glory and Lamp is inconceivable to us now.

Kretzmann: As we, here on earth, receive the physical light which we need from the sun by day and from the moon by night, but only inasmuch as the sun and the moon are bearers of the light, so we receive our spiritual light through the Gospel and not by the direct revelation of the unclouded glory of God. but in heaven we shall need neither sun nor light nor the Gospel, for there the open glory of God and of our Savior will serve for our eternal enlightenment.

We should never despise humble beginnings. The Church began with the twelve sons of Jacob in the Old Testament. But what a weak and sinful group of men! Look what has become of it in heaven.  When we baptize a helpless infant, everything seems so insignificant.  But look what becomes of that child in heaven. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, His parents had to protect Him from murderous Herod. But look what has become of Him in everlasting life. When we look at the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod we shake our heads and wonder whether anything good can come of it all. But look what God will do with this Synod in heaven.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 119-122. Used with permission.

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