Revelation Chapters 20 through 22, Part 4
by Karl Kemp
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Here in Part 4 of this verse-by-verse study of Revelation chapters 20-22, we start with Rev. 21:2.
(2) And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready [prepared] as a bride adorned for her husband. (3) And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people [peoples], and God Himself shall be among them, (4) and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.' [[On new Jerusalem, cf. Gal. 4:26; Heb. 11:10; 12:22, 23; 13:14; and Rev. 3:12. The time setting here for new Jerusalem to come down to the new earth will be the beginning of the eternal state (which starts right after the millennium and the great-white-throne judgment) that is pictured in Rev. 21:1-22:5.
In that we read of new Jerusalem, that it "is made ready [prepared] as a bride adorned for her husband" in 21:2, and, significantly, that in 21:9 the angel says "I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb" and shows John "the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" in 21:10, the bride is being equated (in one very real sense) with the city. This is our city, the city of the people of God's true Israel. This idea that the bride of Christ is a big part of what new Jerusalem is all about is reinforced by the fact that twelve gates of the city have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on them and the twelve foundation stones of the wall of the city have the names of the twelve apostles of the Christian church on them. It is easy to see that the "bride" is true Israel: In Rev. 19:7-9, we read of the marriage of the Lamb to His bride, which is true Israel.
As we have discussed, there are two women in the book of Revelation: one is Babylon the harlot, who is also pictured as a city, and the other woman is the glorious woman of Revelation chapter 12, true Israel, who can also be pictured as a city, Jerusalem and new Jerusalem. This marriage doesn't take place until true Israel has been completed about the time of the beginning of the millennium, after all the members of true Israel have been saved and glorified. On the completion of true Israel, see under Rev. 20:4. On the wedding of Christ to His bride, also see Matt. 22:2-14; 25:1-13; John 3:29; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:22-33; and Rev. 22:17. All these passages deal with the marriage of Christ to new-covenant believers, and Rev. 19:7-9 could be understood this way, but I believe that the members of true Israel from Old Testament days will be included as part of the bride of Christ. They clearly are part of God's true Israel, which is represented by the woman of Revelation chapter 12.
The city and its inhabitants (true Israel) are united in this glorious picture presented in Rev. 21:1-22:5. And, of course, the primary inhabitant of new Jerusalem is the triune God (cf., e.g., Rev. 21:22, 23; 22:1-5). It is significant that Rev. 21:3 speaks of "the tabernacle of God." True Israel is the tabernacle in which God (in one sense) dwells, even as God dwells in new Jerusalem. See, for example, Rev. 3:12; 13:6 (In 13:6 the just-raptured saints are apparently referred to as God's "tabernacle"; Antichrist will blaspheme this tabernacle, even as he will blaspheme God; for one thing, he will have to try to explain away the disappearance of the saints in the rapture; see page 332 of "The Mid-Week Rapture" on Rev. 13:6); Eph. 2:19-22; and 1 Peter 2:5. Revelation 7:15 speaks of God spreading His tabernacle over the just-raptured saints.
True Israel will have been united with Christ and reigning with Him on the earth throughout the millennial kingdom. But it's also true that true Israel will have been dwelling with God in the eternal, glorified, heavenly dimension throughout the millennium (see under Rev. 20:4). We may be able to say that true Israel will have been dwelling in new Jerusalem throughout the millennium, but it's possible that new Jerusalem won't exist in its full and final form until the time of the new heaven and new earth. True Israel won't just be "made ready [prepared) as a bride adorned for her husband" (21:2) at the beginning of the eternal state pictured in Rev. 21:1-22:5. Her members will have been enjoying this glorious relationship with God and His Son throughout the millennium.
I recommend the reader read Note 3 on pages 338-341 of "The Mid-Week Rapture," which discusses Rev. 21:3, 4, 9, and 10. A PRIMARY FEATURE OF REV. 21:1-22:3 IS TO SHOW THE ENTRANCE OF THE ELECT OF THE NATIONS INTO THE ETERNAL LIFE OF GOD'S ETERNAL KINGDOM (cf. 21:3, 4 and 21:24-22:3). When Rev. 21:3 says "the tabernacle of God is among men," it means, for one thing, that God Himself, the source of eternal life and everything else that's good, has come to dwell among the elect of the nations. The words "men," "they," and "them" (twice)" of 21:3 apparently all refer to the peoples of the nations.
I mentioned on page 340 of "The Mid-Week Rapture" that the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament, 3rd edition, corrected, favored the plural reading "peoples" in 21:3, but with much reservation. They assigned the lowest rating (D) to this reading; however, in the latest edition of this Greek New Testament (the fourth revised edition of 1993) the editors assign a B rating to the plural reading, which means, from their point of view, that "the text is almost certain." This reading (peoples) helps substantiate the idea that the peoples of the nations are in view here, to whom God and new Jerusalem (with true Israel) come down at the beginning of the eternal state. Frequently in the Old Testament the plural peoples is used of the nations, with the singular being used of Israel. For some examples, see section 1 in my paper, "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations."
I should also mention that the margin of the NASB mentions that "some ancient manuscripts add 'and be their God' " at the end of Rev. 21:3. The NIV, KJV, and NKJV all have the words "and be their God" at the end of 21:3. These added words further confirm that the peoples refer to the elect of the nations, who will enter the eternal life of God at the time the eternal state of Revelation chapters 21, 22 begins.
Perhaps we should also include the idea in Rev. 21:3 that true Israel, which is represented by, or at least included in, "the tabernacle of God," will function as priests to the nations. It is clear that true Israel will function as priests throughout the millennium (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; and 20:6). This priesthood will probably continue, in some ways, in the eternal state. It is clear that true Israel will continue to reign in the eternal state (e.g., Rev. 22:5).
Assuming that the nations are the peoples spoken of in 21:3 (which I do assume), they certainly are still in view in 21:4, which makes perfect sense. All the members of true Israel will have received these things from God mentioned in 21:4 (tears wiped from their eyes, etc.) by the beginning of the millennium. See Rev. 7:15-17, which refer to those members of God's true Israel who were just raptured in the middle of Daniel's 70th week.
Isaiah 25:6-8 are a very important cross-reference for Rev. 21:4. They mention, for two things, that death will be swallowed up and that God will wipe tears away from all faces. On these verses from Isaiah, see under 1 Cor. 15:54 in my paper on 1 Corinthians chapter 15; see in section 1 of my paper "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations"; and especially see on these verses in my paper titled "Verse-by-Verse Studies of Selected Eschatological Prophecies from the Book of Isaiah: Most of These Prophecies Deal with God's Salvation Plans for the Nations After His End-Time Judgment of the World" (The section of that paper dealing with Isaiah chapters 24-27 will be available on this Christian article site within a few weeks).]] (5) [[I believe we should have a new paragraph starting here and extending through Rev. 21:8. (The NASB doesn't start a new paragraph until 21:9. The United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament has a paragraph starting here and extending through 21:8, as do the RSV, NRSV, NEB, NAB, and the Jerusalem Bible. The NIV has a new paragraph starting at 21:5, but also at 21:6.) For one significant thing, God begins to speak here in 21:5. He speaks a word concerning us Christians of this age, to those who must continue to fight the good fight and stay faithful to the end; His words are designed to exhort, encourage, strengthen, and to warn Christians. They also serve as a powerful confirmation of the genuineness and significance of the book of Revelation.]] And He who sits on the throne [God the Father] said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' [All the things that aren't removed by judgment will be made new as part of God's new creation.] And He said, 'Write, for these words are faithful and true.' [[On "Write," cf. Rev. 1:11, 19 (both spoken by the Son of God); 14:13; and 19:9. I assume "these words" of Rev. 21:5 refer to the words starting with Rev. 21:1; however, the words spoken by God the Father in 21:5-8 have the effect of bearing witness to the supreme importance and the truthfulness of all the words of the book of Revelation (cf. 22:6). This book is extremely important! (Much of what I believe regarding the last days and the age to come is based on the book of Revelation. This book, the last book of the Bible, claims much for itself, and it delivers. I am very impressed with this book.) Jesus Christ, the Son of God, appears to John, as described in Revelation chapter 1, powerfully confirming this entire revelation. And, as if that weren't sufficient, He speaks again in the last chapter, further substantiating this revelation.]] (6) And He said to me, 'It is done. [[A more literal translation would be, "They are done/They have come to pass." Looking at these words from the point of view of the scene of Rev. 21:1-22:5, all His work of saving, judging, glorifying, and of making all things new will now be done.]] I am the Alpha and the Omega [These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.], the beginning and the end. [[Here, as in Rev. 1:8, God the Father is spoken of as the Alpha and the Omega. It is also true, and very significant, that Christ refers to Himself as "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" in Rev. 22:13. Also see 1:17; 2:8. On God the Father, who has the preeminent role in the Trinity and God the Son, see my papers, "Who Do We Worship?"; "Who Do We Pray To?; "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son"; and "More on the Trinity." They are all available on this Christian article site. I believe in the Person of the Holy Spirit, of course, but these papers mostly deal with God the Father and God the Son.
The book of Revelation, and especially the last two chapters, emphasizes the deity of Christ Jesus, the Son of God. See, e.g., Rev. 1:4, 5 (where Christ is listed as a member of the Trinity with God the Father and God the Spirit, as He often is in the New Testament); Rev. 1:12-20 (including the appearance of Christ; note, for example, the appearance of His hair [1:14] compared with the hair of God mentioned in Dan. 7:9; the appearance of His face in 1:16; and the fact that He speaks of Himself as "the first and the last" in 1:17); Rev. 5:12-14 (Christ is worshiped with the Father, which would be blasphemous if He weren't deity with the Father); Rev. 19:10 (when John is told to worship God here, it seems that Jesus is clearly included in who is meant by God; this isn't surprising in that He is called God in John 1:1 [In John 1:1, and typically throughout the Bible, the Person of God the Son is distinguished from the Person of God the Father; see the four papers I mentioned in the last paragraph]; John 20:28; and other places; also see under Rev. 22:9 in this paper); Rev. 19:13 (He is called "the Word [Logos] of God," which denotes deity, based on John 1:1-14; cf. 1 John 1:1, 2); Rev. 21:22, 23 (the things said here regarding Christ would be blasphemous if He weren't deity with the Father); Rev. 22:6 (the words "the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets" apparently refer exclusively to God the Son here; see under 22:6); and Rev. 22:13 (where He says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end").]] I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. [[On this freely given water of life (by the Spirit of God), cf., e.g., Isa. 55:1; John 4:10, 14; 7:37-39; Rev. 7:17; 22:1, 2; and 22:17. In this context, God the Father is speaking, for the most part at least, of the water of the fullness of eternal life reserved for the future, as it is pictured, for example, in Rev. 7:17. Those who thirst for the things of God receive sufficient grace for this age, and in the age to come the fullness of the glory of eternal life. Those saved from the nations pictured in 21:3, 4 and 21:24-22:3 will also partake of the water of the life of God without cost, but they apparently aren't spoken of in 21:5-8. For one thing, Rev. 21:7 seems to just speak of Christians. The book of Revelation was written for Christians.]] (7) He who overcomes [All Christians, by the definition of the book of Revelation, are required to be overcomers (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; cf. 1 John 2:13, 14; 4:4; 5:4, 5).] shall inherit these things [On inheriting these things, cf., e.g., Matt. 5:5; 19:29; Acts 20:32; 26:18; Rom. 4:13; 8:14-25; 1 Cor. 6:9, 10; 15:50; Gal. 3:29; 4:7; 5:21; Eph. 1:14, 18; 5:5; Titus 3:7; Heb. 1:14; 6:12, 17; 9:15; 11:9, 10; and James 2:5.], and I will be His God and He will be My son. [[See Psalm 2:7-9, which speak of the sonship and the inheritance of the members of true Israel. (On these verses see chapter 18 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture.") Born-again Christians already are children of God, but the fullness is yet to come (cf., e.g., Luke 20:34-36; John 1:12, 13; Gal. 4:5-7; 1 John 3:1, 2; 5:1, 4, 11-13; and Rev. 12:5 [See pages 314-317 of "The Mid-Week Rapture" on this super-important verse]). We can undoubtedly say that the elect of the nations can be considered sons/children of God after they are glorified, but true Israel will be sons in a higher sense, including their reigning.]] (8) But for the cowardly and unbelieving [The translation "unfaithful" would probably be better.] and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." [Cf. Rev. 20:14, 15; 21:27; and 22:15.] (9) And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me, saying, 'Come here, I shall show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.' [[This could be the same angel that showed John a very different woman/city in Rev. 17:1-19:6. There John was shown the judgment and removal of Babylon, the great harlot, by "one of the angels who had the seven bowls" (17:1). There is a strong contrast in the book of Revelation between these two women/cities. We are exhorted to flee Babylon (e.g., Rev. 18:4) and to set our hearts completely on God and His city, and to live accordingly (by the grace of God). We have already discussed the bride, the wife of the Lamb, under 21:2-4.]] (10) And he carried me away in the Spirit [cf. Rev. 17:3] to a great and high mountain [These words undoubtedly build on Ezek. 40:2.], and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God [This is the same coming down out of heaven pictured in 21:2, but here the city and its inhabitants are described in some detail. The city does not only come down from God, but as we have discussed, He dwells in this city (cf., e.g., Rev. 21:22; 22:1-5).], (11) having the glory of God. [All the glory in this age and in the eternal age to come, and everything else that is good, comes from God.] Her brilliance was like a very costly stone of crystal-clear jasper. [[Cf. Rev. 4:3. These verses make an attempt to describe the glorious, eternal existence that true Israel will enjoy as the bond-servants of God, dwelling in His presence, and reigning with Him, forever. There is much symbolic language, but, as I mentioned, I'm confident that this description falls far short of the ultimate reality. We're dealing with reality here, heavenly, eternal reality that is permeated with glory. God and His kingdom are more real than this present physical world. He was here first, and He and His kingdom, unlike this present world, will abide forever.]] (12) It had a great and high wall [[In the ancient world, cities had walls (for protection); this could be enough to explain the existence of a wall in this depiction of new Jerusalem given to John (not that new Jerusalem will need a wall for protection). New Jerusalem may not literally have a wall - that's up to God - but I'll guarantee you that the inhabitants of this city will know security like no wall around a city could ever provide, no matter how great and high it is. Cf., e.g., Zech. 2:4, 5. I should mention that the gates of this city never will be closed anyway (Rev. 21:25), so it wouldn't really matter how great and high the wall is.]], with twelve gates [cf. Ezek. 48:31-34], and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are those of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. [The fact that the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel are written on the gates (as in Ezek. 48:32-34) shows that all the elect of the nation Israel have a place in this city. We can certainly say that all the members of God's true Israel will enter (cf. Rev. 22:14), and will have a place in, this city.] (13) There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west [as in Ezek. 48:32-34]. (14) And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. [[Cf. Eph. 2:20. These words demonstrate that the apostles, and I believe we can say all true Christians of all generations (who have come to Christ through the foundation-laying ministries of the apostles, including through their writings in the New Testament) will have a place in this city. As we have discussed, the members of true Israel (which embraces all believers from Old Testament days and New Testament days) are a big part of what this city, the bride of Christ, is all about.]] (15) And the one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. [[On measuring the city, cf. Ezek. 40:3 and the following chapters in Ezekiel. In Rev. 11:2 John was instructed to measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those who worship in it, and he was instructed not to measure the court which is outside the temple because it has been given to the nations/Gentiles, and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months. In that case John apparently didn't have to literally do any measuring because in being instructed to measure these things, he was given the needed information. In other words, he was given the measure of the situation/conditions that will exist in Jerusalem and at the temple at that time (the first half of Daniel's 70th week).
For another important illustration of measuring Jerusalem and receiving important information regarding the situation/conditions of the city and its people, see Zech. 2:1-5. (Zechariah chapters 1-8 are discussed in a paper on my internet site; Google to Karl Kemp Teaching). Like with Rev. 11:1, 2, apparently no literal measuring of dimensions took place in the measuring mentioned in Zech. 2:1-5. The measuring here in Revelation chapter 21 will give us much important information regarding new Jerusalem, including its glory and its inhabitants. This measuring apparently has very little (if anything) to do with literal numbers, dimensions, shapes, etc. I don't have a need to be dogmatic on that point, but it is very clear to me that this passage is packed with symbolic language.]] (16) And the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as its width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. [[As the NASB says in the margin, the Greek literally has "twelve thousand stadia." As far as I'm concerned, the NASB made a mistake by converting to miles here. (The NIV, KJV, and NKJV all keep the number twelve thousand.) The problem is that the NASB failed to keep the number "twelve thousand," which I'm quite confident is a symbolic number. The number twelve can symbolize completeness, even as there are twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, and twelve months. Note that the number twelve was used repeatedly in 21:12-14. When the number twelve is multiplied by a thousand, as it is here, it strengthens the concept of completeness. I believe the dominant idea here is that this city is sized to include/contain all the members of God's true Israel, true Israel in her glorious completeness. I believe it is very unlikely that the city will literally measure fifteen hundred miles. And, as I mentioned, I am quite convinced that the reality of our eternal home will far exceed the symbolic description pictured in Revelation chapters 21, 22.
Under the next verse we'll speak further of symbolic numbers; in that verse the symbolic number is probably more obvious, and I'll mention two other very important examples of symbolic numbers related to the number twelve in the book of Revelation. The next verse and those two examples help incline me to see a symbolic number here in 21:16 too. I also remind the reader of our discussion of the symbolic use of language in the book of Revelation at the beginning of this chapter (Revelation chapter 21), including the obviously symbolic use of the number seven in Rev. 5:6. A fifteen hundred mile city isn't at all impossible, even one that is also fifteen hundred miles high. If we think of a literal shape, we probably should think of a cube (most commentators do, but some think of the shape of a pyramid); this was the shape of the holy of holies in Solomon's temple (1 Kings 6:20). There is some parallel between God's dwelling in the ancient holy of holies and His dwelling in new Jerusalem (cf. Rev. 21:22). One last comment, if we take the fifteen hundred miles literally, and if the gates of the city are equally spaced, the distance between the gates is five hundred miles.]] (17) And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements. [[As the margin of the NASB shows, the Greek reads one hundred forty-four cubits. The NIV, KJV, and NKJV all translate it that way. One hundred forty-four is twelve times twelve and can symbolize completeness, as I believe it does here, the completeness of God's people (true Israel) living within this wall, which is the boundary of the city. Taking these numbers in a symbolic sense in 21:16, 17 is the most common viewpoint in the commentaries.
It is significant that the number "one hundred and forty-four thousand" was used twice in a symbolic sense earlier in the book of Revelation (Rev. 7:4; 14:1); at least that's the way I understand these numbers, and this is the most common viewpoint. On the one hundred and forty-four thousand of Rev. 7:3-8 and 14:1, see page 177 of "The Mid-Week Rapture," including Note 13 (on pages 187, 188) and see under Rev. 7:3-8 in the verse-by-verse study of Revelation chapter 7 on this Christian article site. (For one thing, I quoted from Henry Alford in that paper, a Christian scholar who lived in the 1800s and was an expert on early Christian writings. He commented that he wasn't aware of any Christians [of any generation] who had taken the number literally. In our day many Christians take the number literally.)
The symbolic use of the number one hundred and forty-four thousand for these two distinct groups of people (Rev. 7:4; 14:1) makes it all the more probable that symbolic numbers are used here in Rev. 21:16, 17 too. As I mentioned in Note 13 (see the preceding paragraph), "Taken together, the 144,000 of Rev. 7:4-8 and the 144,000 of Rev. 14:1-5 constitute true Israel, the woman of Revelation chapter 12." Here in Revelation chapter 21, the city bounded by the wall (the wall which has the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on its gates and the names of the twelve Christian apostles on its foundation stones) contains all the members of true Israel.
If we took the seventy-two yards (two hundred and sixteen feet) literally, we would most naturally expect this dimension to be the height of the wall, which, to say the least, isn't very high compared to the height of the city. (It's reported that one of the several walls around Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon was three hundred feet high.) Some say that the seventy-two yards is the thickness, with the height being fifteen hundred miles. (The NIV translates "144 cubits thick," but in the margin says, "or high.") I consider it very unlikely that we are to think of a wall fifteen hundred miles high and seventy-two feet thick. For one thing, that would be a VERY thin wall, considering its great height.]]
We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Revelation chapters 20-22 in Part 5 of this paper, starting with Rev. 21:18.
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