Revelation 21: The New Jerusalem Described, Part 1

Revelation 21:19-21

I titled this post, “The New Jerusalem Described.” Well, it is described, but the description is symbolic in apocalyptic images. This is why Revelation is not a simple book. It is not interpreted with news of current events  in one  hand and the Bible in the other.

“Apocalyptic is a type of biblical literature that emphasizes the lifting of the veil between heaven and earth and the revelation of God and his plan for the world. Later apocalypses [e.g. Revelation] often build upon and elaborate the symbolism employed by earlier ones, such as the Old Testament. This is particularly the case in the Book of Revelation, in which not only earlier apocalypses but the whole Old Testament is plundered for ideas and symbols. Readers need to be alert to discern allusions.” (see Apocalyptic, below.)

I might add, if  we look to current events, we eisegete [read a foreign meaning into] the book of Revelation instead of exegete it [bring the meaning out of the text itself]. 


An experience in High School 

I was a senior in High School when Andrew Lloyd Webber released his album about the story of Jesus. “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a 1970 rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. At first, the pitch for a stage production had not obtained enough investors, so Webber released the musical album to the public. Interest in the album soared and created enough investors for a stage production by the same name. The spirit of the age in the 1960s was one of resistance to authority and desire to reinterpret the Bible as outdated for modern man. 

“[Superstar] interprets the psychology of Jesus and other characters. Much of the plot centers on Judas, who is dissatisfied with the direction in which Jesus is steering his disciples. Contemporary attitudes, sensibilities and slang pervade the rock opera’s lyrics, and ironic allusions to modern life are scattered throughout the depiction of political events. Stage and film productions accordingly contain many intentional anachronisms.” (see Jesus Christ Superstar, below.) 

Jesus Christ Superstar

Image from a Danish 2013 production of Superstar. Image by Jansroos – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29122761

Most everyone in the Bible-belt realized that the music did not fit the Scriptural image of Jesus Christ and his disciples from the Four Gospels. However, younger teachers were interested in studying current writings instead of reading the Western Canon of Literature. My English teacher was interested in denigrating the Biblical account.

I remembered hearing the song by Herod from Superstar—

Herod’s Song from Superstar

Superstar albumJesus, I am overjoyed to meet you face to face.
You’ve been getting quite a name all around the place
Healing cripples, raising from the dead.
Now I understand you’re God.
At least that’s what you’ve said.

Jesus, you just won’t believe the hit you’ve made round here
You are all we talk about, you’re the wonder of the year!
Oh, what a pity if it’s all a lie.
Still, I’m sure that you can rock the cynics if you try.

So if you are the Christ yes, the great Jesus Christ,
Prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool.
If you do that for me, then I’ll let you go free.
C’mon, king of the Jews!
(Lyrics from https://genius.com/Jesus-christ-superstar-cast-king-herods-song-lyrics)
(Album cover right is from Amazon.)

This one shortened quotation is about all I can stand. (See YouTube if you want the music.) It captures the spirit of a generation that was set on overturning all conventional beliefs.

Our class discussion went from Superstar to criticism of the Bible itself. I remember one particular criticism, “Why do people in heaven need all that gold and those precious stones, anyway?” 

I was still relatively young and could not fully enter into defense of the Bible that I believed to be the Word of God. I have since learned a bit more about the Scriptures. The precious metals and valuable stones are so plentiful there, they use them as building materials. John throws our world upside-down in his writings. The values of heaven are opposite to our values here on earth. (More on this below.)


The application of the descriptive sections of the New Jerusalem is—

The use of earthly things to represent heavenly realities is relevant to believers of all ages. When they listen to the description of heaven, they see how different the culture is there from the one they live-in in the cities. 

We can see today how God’s values differ from our own society’s values. 

I. Jewels and gold symbolize the brilliance of glory of God. vs. 18 

vs. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 

Realize that the image of heaven does not say they handed each person who entered the city gold and precious jewels. If Angels did that for the ones entering heaven, it would be like giving someone down here tar and gravel for their anniversary. How would that go for us? 

John sees the New Heavens and New Earth as fulfillment of Isaiah 54:11-12—

11 “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations  with sapphires. 12 I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones. 

Such metals and stones were only used in temples and in the homes of the rich elites in Roman times. Such riches told Roman citizens: “If you live for the glory of Rome, you’ll be on the side of the world’s most wealthy and powerful empire. If not, you’ll face the soldiers of Rome.” If we refuse to live for the glory of any country or alliance today, we might find ourselves out of a job or without previous friends. 


What a Man Wanted to Take to Heaven

A pastor once heard a story that was intended to express how heaven’s riches are beyond measure. It was a story about a rich man who was near death. He grieved because he had worked so hard and wanted to carry his riches with him.

Bag of Gold CoinsThe rich man pleaded with God and was allowed by God to bring one bag. Overjoyed, he loaded a small bag full of gold coins. Upon arrival at heaven, he was checking in and was told by [the Angel at the Gate] the bag would not be allowed. He insisted that he had permission. Things were checked on, and it was found that he did have approval from God.

When the bag was opened to see what was so needed by the man, those around exclaimed, “You brought pavement?!”

Imagine a place that is so vast in its riches that gold is used as its pavement! (See May, below.) 


God’s glory is fully visible in the city. Only what is rare or in short supply on earth can furnish images for us to understand the value of heaven’s riches. 

II. The foundations of the city are made of jewels symbolizing the Bride’s privilege of reflecting the glory of God. vss. 19-20 

vs. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

All of these images emphasize the beauty of the city. God is certainly one who appreciates beauty and symmetry. The  word for “decorated” is kosmeō from which we derive the English word cosmetic. It means “to set in order,” “to adorn,”  or “to decorate.” Most commentators refer to Aaron’s Breastplate in interpreting the jewels. 

Breastplate_on_the_front_of_the_central_Sephardic

← Breastplate on the front of the central Sephardic synagogue in Ramat Gan. Image by Dr. Avishai Teicher Pikiwiki, Israel from Wikipedia)

Exodus 28:29-30 help explain the stones.

29 So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. 30 And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly.

“The jewels of Aaron’s breastpiece are transferred to the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem because the breastpiece was meant to be a miniature version or replica of the Holy of Holies, being made of the same colored material and in the same square shape.” (See Beale, p. 486-7; below.) 

 

III. The gates are of huge Pearls signifying the majestic glory of Christ in His victory over sin, the flesh, and the Devil. vs. 21.  

vs. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

“Pearl” is margarites (Margaret)—a smooth, hard white or bluish-gray round substance from oysters. They were considered far  more valuable in the ancient world than it is today. The OT does not mention pearls in connection with the new heavens and new earth. However, Rabbinic sources do mention them in connection with the age to come. The gates of pearl speak of the spectacular victory of Christ in His death, burial, resurrection, and His sitting down on the right hand of the Father in splendor and majesty.

Gold is transparent when refined of all of its impurities. The above description emphasizes the glory of God, so
visible in the city. “Further, if there were no walls, there would be no description of the splendid gates! Gates provided cities in Asia Minor and elsewhere the best opportunities to flaunt ‘imperial triumphal architecture’; without these gates, Revelation would miss an opportunity to reapply biblical symbolism in its specifically Christocentric way.” (see Keener, p. 495; below.) 

I like the Song “Jerusalem” by CityAlight, St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Castle Hill, Sydney, Australia. It covers the Gospel story, and the last verses project into the future when Jesus Christ will be on the throne in the New Jerusalem. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over!” 

Such a glorious future should help Christians to stand firm in troubled times. Philippians 3 says all we need to hear to stand firm today in persecution. 

20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Next time we will conclude chapter 21:22-27. 

Notes
(Commentaries on which I rely without direct quotation) 

Allen, C. L. (1987). Home Fires: A Treasury of Wit and Wisdom. Nashville, TN: W. Publishing Group

Apocalyptic. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company. Accessed 26 July 2021 from https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/apocalyptic/

Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.

ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com

Fee, G. D. (2010). Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series) Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle version. 

Herrick, G. (2005). The Quiet-Time: What, Why, and How. Accessed 16 July 2021 from https://bible.org/article/quiet-time-what-why-and-how#P10_1647

Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 125).

Jesus Christ Superstar. (2021). Wikipedia accessed 24 July 2021 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Jesus_Christ_Superstar

Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Kenner, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.

Lewis, C. S. (1952). Mere Christianity. New York City: NY: The Macmillan Company. 

May, J. (2015). “You brought Pavement?!” Accessed 26 July 2021 from http://www.ahomewithgod.com/uncategorized/ you-brought-pavement/

Morris, Leon. (1987). Revelation in Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Packer, J. I. (1986). Your Father Loves You. Chicago, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers.

Sproul, R. C. (2014). Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

Swete, H. B. (1909). Apocalypse of St. John. 3rd Edition. London, UK: MacMillan and Co. Ltd. 

Theophany. (2021). Wikipedia. Accessed 17 July 2021 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theophany

WikiMedia Commons for Images

© 2021 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

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