There are seventeen things revealed in this passage about the Holy City, the New Jerusalem:
1. Its names, 21:1
2. Its source and origin, 21:2, 10
3. Its preparation, 21:2
4. Its eternal location, 21:2, 9-10, 24-26; 22:1-5
5. Its outward appearance, 21:11-25
6. Its walls, gates, and foundations, 21:12-14
7. Its measurements, 21:15-17
8. Its materials, 21:10-21
9. Its street, 21:21
10. Its buildings, 21:12
11. Its lighting system, 21:23; 22:5
12. Its water system, 22:1
13. Its inhabitants, 21:2-5, 9; 22:3-4
14. Its traffic, 21:24-27
15. Its food, 22:2
16. Its restrictions, 21:8, 27; 22:8-15
17. Its servant-rulers, 22:3-5
THE NEW JERUSALEM (21:2-23). “I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Human history began in the Garden of Eden and ends in the Holy City. The language of Revelation 21:10 suggests the Holy City is called “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” because the Church dwells with Christ in it. Jesus assured His disciples in John 14:1-3:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
In addition, the OT saints will dwell in the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, for they looked forward to this city:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:8-10).
Paul and the writer of Hebrews identify this city existing now:
These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother (Galatians 4:24-26).
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-23).
Consequently, John sees the New Jerusalem, which already exists, coming down out of heaven from God. It is not part of the new creation. Some believe this city is suspended in the first heaven during the Millennial Kingdom like a satellite city, to which the resurrected saints travel back and forth. Others believe it will remain in orbit, somewhat like the moon, above the new earth for eternity.
DWELLING OF GOD (21:3-5). Here God will dwell throughout eternity along with His people. The curse is completely removed and God makes everything new. During the Millennial Kingdom the curse is only partially lifted since death still occurs (Isaiah 65:20). God dwelling among His people is the fulfillment of God’s plan for man, which Adam and Eve forfeited by rebelling and Israel lost by apostasy.
From the throne, Christ tells John to write this down since these things are faithful and true. This includes all that went before. The apostle again seems to have ceased writing, being overcome with ecstasy.
IT IS DONE (21:6) signifies that God’s eternal kingdom has arrived on earth. All of God’s predictions and promises are fulfilled. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” attests Jesus, who has fulfilled everything God planned from the beginning (Ephesians 3:8-11). The end is a new beginning!
RESIDENTS OF THE CITY (21:6-8). All overcomers inherit all this as sons of God. Everyone else has his or her place in the Lake of Fire. What a contrast of two eternal destinies! “The spring of the water of life” is the Holy Spirit Jesus spoke about to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (cf. John 4:6-15; 7:37-39). Those who drink of this water and remain loyal to Christ have overcome the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
Some think its unscriptural to speak of any one company of redeemed as being the exclusive bride of Christ. If the city, the New Jerusalem, is the bride, then all who go to live in the Holy City make up the bride and not just a part of them. Every resident (OT, NT or Tribulation Saint) is saved because of Christ’s redemption.
The abundant and eternal life will be experienced fully: (1) satisfaction from the spring of the water of life; (2) full inheritance as sons; and (3) true fellowship with God the Father. Cowards, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars will be excluded. These eight traits are representative of those who have their place in the Lake of Fire.
IN THE SPIRIT (21:9-10). This is the fourth vision where John is “in the Spirit.” One of the angels with the seven bowls carries the prophet to a mountain great and high to see the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. The Devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor (Matthew 4:8). That was a pittance compared to what John was shown.
THE SPLENDOR OF THE NEW JERUSALEM (21:11-14). This city with beautiful walls and gates has no temple—for it is all a temple; a city that needs no light—for God is its light; a city into which nothing impure ever enters; a city filled with trees, and streams, and fountains, and fruits—its the Paradise of God! The city was like a precious jewel in which the glory of God shines in all its brilliance. It is like a jasper, clear as crystal. Jasper is a transliteration rather than a translation. This refers to a completely clear diamond, signifying the city is translucent—nothing is hidden from view!
It had a great, high wall with twelve gates and with twelve angels at the gates. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were driven of the Garden of Eden so they could not eat of the Tree of Life. After God drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24). Symbolically, the twelve angels keep the unsaved from entering into the city to eat of the Tree of Life.
On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Ezekiel 48:31-34). There are three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. This indicates that saints from all twelve tribes of the nation of Israel enter into the Holy City. Additionally, the twelve gates suggest entering and leaving this city. Now, we are bound by time and space. Our own galaxy, one of millions, is so large that a space ship traveling at the speed of light (187 thousand miles per second) would take over one hundred thousand years to cross it. Once we receive our resurrection bodies we will be able to travel as fast as the angels—possibly the speed of thought! It is hard to imagine that we will not have access to God’s vast creation.
The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb pictures the completion of the Bride as the Temple:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Notice that the angels, Israel and Church remain distinct in the Eternal State.
THE MEASUREMENT OF THE CITY, ITS GATES AND WALLS (21:15-17). Some commentators think the city is shaped like a pyramid; others believe it is a cube with each side measuring 12,000 stadia, or about 1,400 or 1,500 miles.
The Most Holy Place in the Temple, where the Shekinah Glory dwelt, was a cube (1 Kings 6:20). Some refer to the New Jerusalem as “the City Foursquare.”
The size of New Jerusalem would stretch from the Eastern Seaboard of the United States to the Mississippi River on the one side and from the Canadian Border to the Gulf of Mexico on the other side. We now live on the outside of this sphere, but perhaps we will live on the inside of the sphere of the new earth. The diameter of the moon is 2,160 miles and possibly the exact size of the New Jerusalem. The walls of 144 cubits, about two hundred feet, could be the outer surface. We will know for sure when we get there!
THE SPLENDOR OF THE WALLS, FOUNDATION AND GATES (21:18-20). The wall was made of jasper, and the city and street of pure gold, as pure as glass; therefore, everything is constructed of transparent materials. John describes the foundations and walls as being decorated with every kind of precious stone. The named stones John used are diversely interpreted. They are said to refer to (1) the high priest’s breastplate (Exodus 28:17-20; (2) the jewels adorning the king of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:13); and (3) the signs of the Zodiac. The exact colors of some of these stones remain uncertain, however. It seems best to understand them as adding to the beauty of the city. The city is aglow with the radiance of color as the glory of God and the Lamb shine through its translucent materials.
THE TEMPLE OF THE CITY (22-23). There is no temple building because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its Temple. The city does not need illumination from the sun or moon since God’s glory gives it light.
The name of the city from this time forward will be: THE LORD IS THERE (Ezekiel 48:30-43).
THE NEW NATIONS (21:24-27). Apparently, there will be nations in the Eternal State. Now, mankind and the spiritual realm are organized and there is no reason to think God will not have organization in His eternal kingdom. The fact that the nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it highly suggests that the city orbits the new earth.
The gates are never shut since there is no night in the Holy City. Those who love the darkness and hate the light would detest this city for it is ablaze with light! Nothing impure nor anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful will ever enter the New Jerusalem; this sets it apart from the city of the Millennial Kingdom. Only those written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will have access to this city. There is no hope beyond the grave for the lost.
THE RIVER OF LIFE (22:1-2a). Chapter twenty-two focuses on the splendor of the inner life of the city rather than its physical beauty. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. This river is unlike any on the present earth since its source is not a hydrological cycle but God’s throne. Its continual flow symbolizes eternal life.
Inside the city is a Garden—the Paradise of God. Through the center of it flows the river of life. Four rivers flowed from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10-14). A river will flow from the Temple of the Millennial Kingdom (Ezekiel 47:1-12; Zechariah 14:8). Psalm 46:4 speaks of the river of the Eternal State:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
THE TREE OF LIFE (22:2b-3a). “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.”
Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God resulted in man living under God’s curse and exclusion from the tree of life. This exclusion and the curse are removed in the Eternal State. The twelve fruits and leaves symbolize the abundant life in heaven. Somehow, this tree’s fruit and leaves enrich life, making it full and satisfying.
Together, the River of Life and the Tree of Life speak of abundant life and eternal life. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, KJV). His promise will be fully realized in the Eternal State.
THE THRONE OF GOD (22:3b-5). “The Throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads,” indicating they belong to Yahweh.
The LORD told Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Once the curse of death is removed, the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, who lives in unapproachable light will be seen face to face.
It is reiterated that there will be no more night. The residents of the city will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.
“And his servants will serve Him” . . . “and they will reign for ever and ever” invites two questions: (1) How will they serve Him? (2) Over whom will they reign? The vastness of the Universe might offer numerous opportunities for service and reigning!
NON-LITERALISTS. Some Historicists, Preterists and Idealists spiritualize the whole vision in chapters twenty-one and twenty-two as applying to a nonmaterial state of existence in heaven. Others who do not take Revelation literally say the New Heaven and the New Earth represent what Paul called “a new creation” in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Hence, the New Jerusalem represents the Church. The Old Covenant has passed away and the New Covenant has come. The present heaven and earth go on forever!