(from Coming Tribulation part 6)
The Nature of New Jerusalem
(9) Then one of the seven angels who have the seven bowls filled with the seven final plagues came [up to me], and he spoke with me, saying, "Come. I will show you the Bride, the Lamb's wife". (10) Then he carried me in the Spirit to a mountain, great and high, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, (11) and [it shone] with the glory of God. It was radiant like an extremely precious gemstone, like a [purple] jasper stone, [only] translucent like crystal. (12) It had a wall, great and high with twelve gates, and at the gates were twelve angels. Names were written on [each of] the gates which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. (13) Three gates faced east; three gates faced north; three gates faced west; and three gates faced south. (14) And the city wall had twelve foundations, and on [the twelve foundations] were [written] the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (15) And the [angel] who was speaking with me had a golden measuring rod [which he used] to measure the city [along with] its gates and its wall. (16) The city was square in its design with its length equal to its width. And he measured the city with his [golden measuring] rod, and [it came] to 12,000 stadia (i.e., approx. 1590 miles): its length and its width and its height were precisely the same. (17) He then measured the [city's] rim, 144 cubits (i.e., approx. 84 yards) in human measurement which is the same [here] as the angelic standard. (18) The wall of [the city] was composed of [purple] jasper, and the city [itself] of pure gold [which was] transparent like crystal.
One of the Seven Angels: As mentioned in the previous installment of this series, these seven are the college of archangels of which only two are known by name, Michael and Gabriel. While we are not given his name here, Gabriel would seem to be a likely candidate for the angel speaking with John. For Gabriel is known to us from his explanation of eschatological visions to Daniel (Dan.8:16; 9:21), and from his proclamation of the coming of the Messiah and His herald (Lk.1:19; 1:26), and here we have both categories of prophecy combined into one: the Advent of the Father and of His eternal abode, the capstone of all eschatology in the coming of the New Jerusalem where Father and Son will rule forever.
The Bride: We have already been told (Rev.21:2) that the New Jerusalem appears "beautified as a bride adorned for her [future] husband". Here we see the eternal city actually described as "the Bride, the Lamb's wife". Of course we know – and at this point scripture expects us to know – that the believers resurrected at Jesus' return are "the Bride of Christ". Equating the place with its people is a figure of speech (technically known as a metonymy) where the residence takes on the name of the residents (cf. 1Cor.3:9-17; 6:19; Eph.2:19-22; 1Pet.2:21 and Rev.3:12, where believers are also compared to structures in whole or in part). Apart from the reference to our Lord, John is not given at any point to see the human or angelic residents of New Jerusalem. But since this is to be the Church's eternal residence, describing it as "the Bride" (since that is where the Bride will indeed life forevermore) certainly makes perfect sense.
The Mountain: The existence of this mountain, "great and high", on the New Earth is a clear indication that, apart from the absence of the oceans, its topography will be similar to that with which we are now familiar (though undoubtedly grander in every way as this description suggests). John is taken up to the top of this mountain in order to receive a better perspective of the whole on the new city (in a manner similar to the view the Lord gave Moses of the promised land: Num.27:12; cf. Ezek.40:2). This is our first hint of the massive size of New Jerusalem and also of its essential layout: like the prehistoric "Mountain of God" (Is.14:13) and the miraculously elevated millennial Jerusalem (Is.2:2; Ezek.40:2; Zech.14:10-11), so too the center of the new city must be of considerable height to necessitate this action.67
The Exterior of the City: Later in verse eighteen we will find that "the city [itself was composed] of pure gold [which was] transparent like crystal", although here we are told that it appeared to John "radiant like an extremely precious gemstone, like a [purple] jasper stone, [only] translucent like crystal" and that it "[shone] with the glory of God". The apparent discrepancy between the two descriptions has to do with John's change of perspective. Later, he has apparently been conveyed by the angel around the city's exterior and into the city proper (otherwise he would never have been able to see the gates on all sides of the city, or the throne, or the tree of life, or the river of living water, or any of the other sights within its walls). Within, the true nature of the city is plain to see: it is composed of translucent, crystalline-gold. Without, the city has a purple "radiance": the illumination of its exterior by the glory of God gives it an incandescent appearance of translucent, crystalline-[purple] jasper. This exterior covering has a similar function to the tent of the tabernacle (which was similarly composed of blue, purple and red materials), defining and visibly demarcating the holy space wherein the Glory of God dwells.68
The Wall: John employs precisely the same description for the wall, "great and high", as he did for the mountain. This fact alone makes it clear that the 144 cubits mentioned in verse seventeen is not referring to the height of the wall (indeed, it is not referring to the wall per se at all; see below). For as monumentally massive as a seventy-yard high wall would be in our present-day experience, those proportions are dwarfed by the size of the city. For someone given to see New Jerusalem in a panoramic view (one wide enough to take in the entire city at once as John is given to do), a structure of such relatively meager dimensions would be nearly invisible. We are not, in fact, ever given the dimensions of the wall, but they must be prodigious in order for it to be noteworthy from John's perspective, and especially in order for him to describe it as "great and high" even in comparison with the enormous size of New Jerusalem. We may expect that its dimensions are in perfect proportion to those of the perfect city. We should also note here that by the time the wall becomes visible New Jerusalem has most likely come to earth where John is now seeing it in situ.
The Twelve Gates: As in the case of the millennial Jerusalem described in Ezekiel 48:30-34, the New Jerusalem will also have twelve gates bearing the names of the tribes of Israel. There are differences between the two, however, and those differences are profound:
1) The naming of the gates of millennial Jerusalem proceeds in a clockwise fashion (i.e., north to south to east to west), whereas the New Jerusalem's gates are enumerated counterclockwise (east to north to west to south).69
2) Millennial Jerusalem has a gate for Levi and combines Ephraim and Manasseh into one tribe, Joseph, whereas the New Jerusalem has no gate for Levi and separate gates for Ephraim and Manasseh.
3) While in the New Jerusalem the order of the gates and tribes associated with them has everything to do with rank (see section VII.7 below, "The Foundations and Gates of the Wall", for the identification of the gemstones with their particular tribes and the significance of their ordering), the gates of millennial Jerusalem are ordered according to birth by means of a formula which takes into consideration both age and motherhood:
north: the three eldest sons of Leah, Reuben, Judah and Levi.
east: the sons of Rachel, Joseph and Benjamin, along with Dan, the first son of her maid, Bilhah.
south: Leah's three other sons, Simeon, Issachar and Zebulun.
west: Gad, Asher, the two sons of Leah's maid (Zilpah); and Naphtali, Bilhah's second son.
As will be seen below, by comparing the arrangement of the jewels of the high priest's ephod with the gemstones which serve as foundations for the wall (along with the gates with which they are thereby necessarily associated), it is possible to determine the specific tribes associated with each gate (and the probable significance of the linkage). This will be covered below in our treatment of Revelation 21:15-21 where these foundations are actually described and ranked. For the moment, it is important to point out that each gate represents a division of the Church, and it is for this reason that each gate has one of the twelve apostles and an angel associated with it. The angels are positioned "at the gates", while the apostles names are inscribed on their respective foundation stones. In terms of the apostles, they would seem to be in charge (or at least to be the titular heads) of the twelve divisions of the Bride of Christ; in terms of the angels, they would seem to be the liaisons to and/or comparable heads of the angelic divisions which correspond to and are eternally associated with the divisions of the Church (and we will suggest the particular identification and assignments of each college of twelve below). As we shall see, this magnificent vision given to John to see in all its glory is not only one of breath-taking beauty, but it also will give us a key to the possibilities of our eternal status, depending upon "what was accomplished through this body, whether it be good or worthless" (2Cor.5:10).
The Measurement and Design of New Jerusalem: Revelation 21:16 tells us that the city will be a cube measuring 12,000 stadia on each side. The stadion/stadium was a Greek measurement of 600 feet (cf. Herodotus 2.149), although the precise length of the "foot" varied from place to place. It is important to note, however, that the precise standard used here is the same one employed for the millennial Jerusalem in Ezekiel chapters 40-48. That is clear for two reasons; first, because in verse 17 we are told that the human and angelic measurement are identical here (i.e., the longer, angelic standard is being employed here for John just as it was when the angel measured the temple for Ezekiel: Ezek.40:5); second, because the length of the sides of the New Jerusalem are precisely 1,200 times longer than those of the millennial Jerusalem (i.e., millennial Jerusalem measures 4000 cubits or 100 stadia per side, subtracting the area for the temple-sanctuary which is not present in New Jerusalem: Ezek.45:2; 48:30), thus indicating that the same heavenly standard is to be understood. Based upon the above, the dimensions of the New Jerusalem would be approximately 1590 of our own statute miles in length, breadth, and height. In terms of the present day earth, the city would not only cover all of the expanded, millennial Israel, but also most of the middle east, with its border running roughly from the river Danube to the Caspian Sea to the Red Sea to the Libyan desert and back north again to the Danube (we know that New Jerusalem's borders run due north to south, and due east to west, because of the orientation of its gates: cf. Rev.21:13). Given the necessity for the eternal territory of Israel to continue to exist outside of this massive city, as suggested above we most likely have to do with a greatly enlarged New Earth which has been expanded proportionally so as to accommodate this need.
The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.
Genesis 17:7 NIV
One aspect of the New Jerusalem which sometimes leads to confusion is its height, described in verse sixteen as equal to its length and breadth. However, we should not think of the city as having "floors" stacked some sixteen hundred miles into the sky. Rather, this third dimension will be largely vacant, with the surface of the city functioning in precisely the same way as every other iteration of Jerusalem and of paradise, a habitable two-dimensional surface, but enclosed by a sanctified exterior of three dimensions. The holy of holies in the tabernacle furnishes us with the pattern of interpretation we are to use here. After all, we are explicitly told that the tabernacle was a model of heavenly types (Ex.25:40; Heb.8:5). We have seen before (and will consider below) some of these representations (for example, the ark of the covenant representing the chariot-throne of God, and the threefold illustration of Jesus Christ provided by the altar of incense, the menorah, and the table of the bread of presence).70 Apropos of our current discussion is the similarity between the holy of holies and the New Jerusalem in terms of spatial proportion, arrangement of pertinent contents, and exterior covering.
Both the holy of holies in the tabernacle and the New Jerusalem are perfect cubes (cf. Ex.26:16; 36:21). The holy of holies contained the ark of the covenant (corresponding to the throne of God the Father and Lamb: Rev.22:1-2), with the mercy seat and the cherubim overlooking it (corresponding to the angelic presence in the New Jerusalem). However, most of the actual space within the holy of holies was empty.71 In a similar fashion, only the surface of the New Jerusalem will be furnished (with the throne, the tree of life, the river of the water of life, the main street, and no doubt with other unnamed glories, our own personal, eternal habitations included). The throne will be found at the center of the city and will be elevated, and, given the proportions of the city, it is probable that the height of the central "mount" will be great (as indeed in relative terms the ark and mercy seat are proportionally quite high as compared to the floor-level of the tabernacle). This is in keeping with the residence of God throughout creature history:
Before the creation of mankind:
For you said in your heart, "I will ascend heavenward. I will set my throne above the stars of God. And I will take my seat on the mount of assembly on the sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will be like the Most High God.
Now a river was flowing forth from Eden (i.e., downhill), in order to water the garden, and from there (i.e., after passing through the garden) it divided so that it turned into four headwaters.
In the present day third heaven:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem.
And I looked, and behold, the Lamb stood upon Mount Zion, and with Him were the 144,000, having His Name and the Name of His Father written upon their foreheads.
In the millennial Jerusalem:
At the end of days, the mountain of the temple of the Lord will be established as the chief of all mountains, and it will be raised higher than all [other] hills, and all the nations will flow to it.
The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar.
Ezekiel 47:1 NIV
And in the glorious New Jerusalem to come:
And He showed me the river of the water of life, bright like crystal, coming forth from the throne of God and of the Lamb (i.e., and so flowing downhill as in every other such case).
As indicated above, just as the tabernacle was completely covered with an exterior curtain, so the New Jerusalem will have its own distinctive, three-dimensional border. The inner layer of the tabernacle's curtain was composed of linen: blue (reflecting the heavenly origin of the only One who can give us access), purple (reflecting the royalty of the only One who can give us access), and scarlet (reflecting the sacrifice of the only One who can give us access). This layer was also embroidered with cherubim, symbolizing the holy abode of God, the third heaven lying above the firmament of sky and space (unreachable apart from Christ). The outer layer of the tabernacle curtain was composed of dark, leathery "sea-cow skins", symbolizing the firmament of the sky, glistening, shimmering, with a blue-black watery appearance, and impenetrable to the eye. In eternity, there will be no need to shield the glory of God from His creation. Instead of an intricate, multi-layered curtain, however, New Jerusalem will be clothed with translucent jasper, and through that covering the glorious light of His being will illuminate the universe:
And night will no longer exist. And those [with the Name of the Father and the Son on their foreheads] will not have need of the light of a lamp or the light of the sun: the Lord God will shine upon them.
Just as the tabernacle was illuminated by the lamp and indwelt by the Shekinah glory of God, so the New Jerusalem will be illuminated by the true glory of God, with that glory illuminating the exterior covering from within and everything without as well, in keeping with the proclamation that He will be "tenting with us" from this point forth forever.
For my tabernacle will be over them. Then I will be their God, and they will be my people.
(5) And the Lord will create over Mount Zion and over all her assemblies a cloud – one of smoke by day, and of a shining flame of fire by night. For there will be a canopy above the glory [of His presence, covering it] entirely. (6) It will be a shelter from the heat by day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.
The City's Rim and Exterior Wall: Contrary to what is found in most translations of Revelation 21:17, the dimensions of the wall surrounding New Jerusalem are not given. As suggested above, if the 144 cubits mentioned referred to the wall, it would indeed be most odd if this wall with its gates of pearl and foundations made of gemstones had even been particularly noticeable to John in comparison with the massive dimensions of New Jerusalem. Most (though not all) of the versions take the 144 cubits to refer to the height of the wall, though, strangely, height is not mentioned. The NIV is closer to the truth in understanding the measurement as referring to the width of the wall, thus allowing the structure the height necessary in order to be proportional to the towering city. In fact, however, no particular dimension is mentioned in regard to the 144 cubits because it is not the measure of the wall that is being specified (where we would need to know whether width or height was being specified), but rather of the rim or standoff space between the city and the wall. The reading found in most manuscripts, teichos (Gr., "wall") is incorrect. Sinaiticus preserves the correct reading: cheilos (Gr., "lip", or "rim"). It is easy enough to see how the former (identical in all letters except for the tau in place of the lambda) was accidently read for the latter, especially since the "wall" is in view both immediately before (vv.12, 14, 15) and after (vv.18, 19) verse 17. That is to say, this could be either an error of sense ("wall" is what we have everywhere else, so we expect to have "wall" here as well), or of vision (with teichos occurring throughout the context it would have been very easy for a scribe's eye to slip to a neighboring instance of the more common word).
Just as in the case of the tabernacle furniture which also has rims around its sides symbolizing sanctification (Ex.25:11; 25:25; 37:12), and just as in the case of the millennial Jerusalem where there is an area of free space immediately outside the sanctuary (Ezek.45:2), and also outside the city proper (Ezek.48:17), so it was appropriate for the wall of the New Jerusalem to be separated from the city by a symbolic distance (i.e., 144 cubits; cf. the 144,000 martyrs, and the twelve thousand by twelve-thousand-stadion sides of the city). The standoff therefore can only be one of width, and it is for that reason the text does not give us a dimension (whereas if the 144 cubits really were a dimension of the wall, we would be told which dimension).
The construction of the wall is the same as that of the exterior of the city, translucent purple-jasper, demonstrating the intrinsic oneness of city and wall. The wall, or course, will not be necessary either for defense (for never will anything hostile to the Lord exist in the new universe) nor for sanctification (for never will anything unholy exist in the new universe). Rather, as evidenced by the foundation stones which (as we shall see below) are memorials to the level of service to the Lord we His people evidenced here in time, the wall will serve as a memorial to the fact that the Lord has always been our bulwark of defense.
"For I will be a wall of fire for her, roundabout [Jerusalem]", says the Lord, "and I will be her glory [shining forth from] within".
The Foundations and Gates of the Wall
(19) And the foundations of the wall of the city were dressed with every [sort] of precious gemstone.
[The Southern Gates]
The first foundation was jasper (the gate of Gad).
The second foundation was sapphire (the gate of Simeon).
The third foundation was carnelian (the gate of Reuben).
[The Eastern Gates]
The fourth foundation was emerald (the gate of Zebulun).
(20) The fifth foundation was sardonyx (the gate of Issachar).
The sixth foundation was sardius (the gate of Judah).
[The Northern Gates]
The seventh foundation was chrysolite (the gate of Dan).
The eighth foundation was beryl (the gate of Asher).
The ninth foundation was peridot (the gate of Naphtali).
[The Western Gates]
The tenth foundation was chrysoprase (the gate of Ephraim).
The eleventh foundation was jacinth (the gate of Manasseh).
The twelfth foundation was amethyst (the gate of Benjamin).
(21a) And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: each gate was made entirely of a single pearl.
In addition to its role as a memorial to the perfect protection and deliverance which the people of God have experienced throughout human history, the specific features of the wall, namely, its gates and its foundation stones, also serve to demarcate the particular division along with its "colors" to which each believer will belong for all eternity. The description of the foundations of the wall is nested in-between the initial description of the 12 gates in verses 12-13 (where we are told of the orientation of the gates) and their specific description in verse 21 (where we are told that the gates themselves are identical, made of a single pearl each). Thus the foundations are intrinsically connected to the gates; and, specifically, each gate is associated with a corresponding foundation. This is important for analyzing the particular identification, position, and rank of each foundation stone.
Gemstones were used by the Lord to represent in a memorial way the angelic clans (Ezek.28:13).72 They were also used on the high priest's breastplate to represent the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex.28:17-21; 39:10-14). The tribal structure of Israel is the ultimate organization into which all members of the assembly of believers in Jesus Christ (i.e., the ekklesia or "Church") will be distributed (cf. Ezek.47:21-23; Zech.2:11). This distribution will not be based on heredity (gentiles from before Abraham until the return of Christ will be included), nor on specific lineage (Jewish believers themselves will be rearranged in terms of tribe), but according to merit. We see an indication of this in the fact that the twelve apostles are specifically said in verse 14 to have their names inscribed one to a foundation, with each serving in the capacity of prince for his respective echelon of the duodecad. However, while it is not known to which tribe each of the apostles belonged, it is very clear that they cannot be literal descendants of the twelve tribes, one from each tribe. That is because several of them are brothers (e.g., Peter and Andrew, James and John). We may also be sure that Paul, the greatest of the apostles, will have a grander position than prince of seventh-ranked Benjamin (his ancestral tribe). Therefore we may surmise that the distribution of apostles will take place according to merit rather than genealogy, and that this will be the rule for individual believers in regard to their eternal assignments as well (cf. Gen.48:13-20; Is.66:21; Heb.7:13-14; Rev.7:5-8 [omitting Dan]). Just as the remaining angelic clans which stayed faithful to the Lord were rearranged after Satan's rebellion, and just as individual angels were apparently shifted with these clans as well (especially in regard to those of the three rebel clans who refused to follow the lead of their natural affinities), so also will it be with the 12 tribes (cf. Rev.3:4). In eternity, in addition to any individual rewards won, including our "new name" which will be perfectly reflective of who we are and what we achieved in time (Rev.2:17; 3:12; Is.65:15; cf. Is.62:2b; see section I.7 above, "The Judgment of the Church"), we shall all have a very definite rank and a very specific place in the eternal hierarchy of the New Jerusalem (for are all individually "precious stones" to God: Zech.9:16; 1Pet.2:5).
Although not generally understood (largely due to a failure to read the
correct sequence of John's viewing of the gates, i.e.,
east-north-west-south), careful attention to the details provided in
Revelation chapter twenty-one in comparison to the information about the
gemstones and tribes as they appeared on the high priest's breastplate
reveals that the order of the gemstone-foundations is identical to the
order found on the breastplate. John's tour of the gates began on the
east (the highest ranking side), and proceeded counter-clockwise to
conclude on the south. His description of the gemstones now begins
from that southern perspective. That is to say, John's
enumeration of the gemstones does not begin with the southern-gate
foundation stones because they rank first, but because this side of the
city wall is where he now finds himself after his first "lap" around the
city. Moreover, not only do the gemstone-foundations reflect the
breastplate-order in terms of rank (once the ordering is properly
understood: Ex.28:17-21; 39:10-14), but they are also identical to the
encampment-order of the tribes around the tabernacle (Num.2:1-31; cf.
The positioning of the tribes in their encampment-order is identical to the positioning of their respective gates in New Jerusalem. There is, however, a difference in ranking nonetheless. The west-gate tribes in their encampment-order have the same rank as they do on the high priest's breastplate: Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin (for Ephraim was the leader of this triad: Num.2:18-24); however, while the eastern and southern groups maintain their rank, in the case of the north and west-gate tribes we see the first and last of each triad swapping rank in the circular ranking system of New Jerusalem. That is because the encampment-order was designed to facilitate the commencement of the march, whereas the New Jerusalem order reflects status in an absolute way. The result is the relative promotion of Benjamin and Naphtali (from 9th to 7th and from 12th to 10th respectively), and the relative demotion of Ephraim and Dan (from 7th to 9th and from 10th to 12th respectively.73 The spiritual application that we do not all end up in the order wherein we begin the Christian race, whether outperforming our station or failing to live up to our advantages, should not be overlooked here. All six of the west and north-gate tribes remain in the same geographic position as was the case when tenting around the tabernacle, but the significance in terms of rank has changed in the cases mentioned on account of the change of system from march-order to one of consecutive ranking.
In terms of that rank, the true order begins with Judah in the first position at the northernmost eastern gate and proceeds clockwise until we reach Dan in twelfth position at the easternmost northern gate. John's actual listing of the twelve is given in a counter-wise fashion, and begins in the middle of the order, and on the south at that (because that is the place where he starts his consideration of the foundations, and it is in that direction in which he is given to view the city). John begins with the foundation stones of the southern gates (because that is where he commenced his second lap around the wall), and concludes on the west:
(S.) 6, 5, 4 – (E.) 3, 2, 1 – (N.) 12, 11, 10 – (W.) 9, 8, 7
Given the impressive nature of the gemstone-foundations and the gates, it is likely that both are correspondingly massive in size so as to match the "great, high wall" which itself harmonizes in magnitude with the monumental New Jerusalem. The most likely layout of these foundation jewels, therefore, is that they occupy the entire area from gate to gate, being also as tall as the gates, with the 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th foundations wrapping the four corners of the wall so as to connect their gate to the one preceding (leaving the wall itself above the foundations and gates a perfect band of uninterrupted, translucent jasper). The actual ranking (along with the reasons for it and the correct identification of the gemstones) proceeding in a clockwise direction and beginning with the position of honor is as follows:
East-side Tribes: The east side is the place of greatest honor, facing our Lord (cf. the orientation of the tabernacle and temple), and therefore the place of greatest fellowship with the Father and the Son (cf. Ex.25:22; 29:42). Members of the three eastern tribes have all fulfilled the plan of God for their lives, not only believing in Him and His Son our Lord Jesus (as the Messiah either promised before the cross or revealed after the cross), but growing up in Him spiritually, passing the tests of spiritual maturity, and completing the ministries assigned to them by the Lord. This level of achievement is represented in the visible human-face of the cherub who guards the front of the throne. East-side tribal members have advanced to the point of reflecting the Person of Christ (2Cor.3:18; cf. 1Cor.11:1; 1Pet.2:21), having become "complete" in their Christian walk and production of their assigned ministries (Eph.4:13; cf. Jas.1:4; 2:22). While all three eastern tribes share the honor of having accomplished their God-given missions, they have done so to relative degrees, in the manner of "100/60/30 fold" respectively.
1. Judah: Sardius: Hebrew: אדם /`odhem; Greek: sardion / σάρδιον (Gen.49:8-12; Deut.33:7).
2. Issachar: Sardonyx: Hebrew: פטדה / pitedhah; Greek: sardonyx / σαρδόνυξ (Gen.49:14-15; Deut.33:18-19).
3. Zebulun: Emerald: Hebrew: ברקת / bareqeth; Greek: smaragdos / σμάραγδος (Gen.49:13; Deut.33:18-19).
South-side Tribes: The south side is the place of second greatest honor on our Lord's right-hand. Members of the three southern tribes have all made great progress in the plan of God for their lives, not only believing in Him and His Son our Lord Jesus (as the Messiah either promised before the cross or revealed after the cross), but growing up in Him spiritually, and passing the high-level tests of spiritual maturity. This level of achievement is represented in the visible lion-face of the cherub who guards the right-hand side of the throne. South-side tribal members have advanced to the point of honoring the Person of Christ (1Cor.6:20; 2Cor.8:23; Phil.1:20; 1Pet.1:7), having courageously acquitted themselves in the Christian life (Prov.28:1; cf. 1Pet.5:8). While all three southern tribes share the honor of having trusted the Lord in significant testing, they have done so to relative degrees, in the manner of "100/60/30 fold" respectively.
1. Reuben: Carnelian: Hebrew: נפך / nophekh; Greek: chalcedon / χαλκηδών (Gen.49:3-4; Deut.33:6).
2. Simeon: Sapphire: Hebrew: ספיר / sappir; Greek: sapphiros / σάπφιρος (Gen.49:5-7; cf. Deut.33:8-11).
3. Gad: Jasper: Hebrew: יהלם / yahalom; Greek: iaspis / ἴασπις (Gen.49:19; Deut.33:20-21).
West-side Tribes: The west side is the place of third greatest honor in the special guardian position behind the throne. Members of the three western tribes have all made progress in the plan of God for their lives, not only believing in Him and His Son our Lord Jesus (as the Messiah either promised before the cross or revealed after the cross), but growing up in Him spiritually. This level of achievement is represented in the visible eagle-face of the cherub who guards the rear of the throne. West-side tribal members have advanced to the point of trusting the Person of Christ (Ex.19:4; Is.40:31; Col.1:10; 2Thes.1:3; 1Pet.2:2; 2Pet.3:18; cf. Eph.4:15-16: Col.2:19), having grown to the point of spiritual maturity in the Christian life (Eph.4:13; Col.4:12; Heb.5:13; Jas.1:3-4). While all three western tribes share the honor of having advanced in the knowledge of the Lord, they have done so to relative degrees, in the manner of "100/60/30 fold" respectively.
1. Benjamin: Amethyst: Hebrew: אחלמה / `achalamah; Greek: amethystos / ἀμέθυστος (Gen.49:27; Deut.33:12).
2. Manasseh: Chrysoprase: Hebrew: שבו / shebho; Greek: chrysoprasos / χρυσόπρασος (Gen.49:22-26; Deut.33:13-17).
3. Ephraim: Jacinth: Hebrew: לשם / leshem; Greek: hyakinthos / ὑάκινθος (Gen.49:22-26; Deut.33:13-17).
North-side Tribes: The north side is the final place of honor, to the left-hand side of the throne. Members of the three northern tribes have all responded to the plan of God for their lives, not only by believing in Him and His Son our Lord Jesus (as the Messiah either promised before the cross or revealed after the cross), but maintaining their faith safely intact until the end. This level of achievement is represented in the visible bullock-face of the cherub who guards the left-hand side of the throne. North-side tribal members have endured the trials of life while holding firmly to their faith in the Person of Christ (Is.1:3; 1Tim.1:18-19; 6:12; 2Tim.4:7; Heb.4:14), having refused to exchange that precious faith for a mess of pottage (Heb.10:35-39; Heb.12:16; 2Pet.2:21-22). While all three northern tribes share the honor of having kept faith with the Lord, they have done so to relative degrees, in the manner of "100/60/30 fold" respectively.
1. Naphtali: Peridot: Hebrew: ישפה / yashepheh; Greek: topazion / τοπάζιον (Gen.49:21; Deut.33:23).
2. Asher: Aquamarine-Beryl: Hebrew: שהם / shoham; Greek: beryllos / βήρυλλος (Gen.49:20; Deut.33:24-25).
3. Dan: Chrysolite: Hebrew: תרשיש / tarshish; Greek: chrysolithos / χρυσόλιθος (Gen.49:16-18; Deut.33:22).
In is important to note here that the exceptional achievements of some will not in any way disparage the lesser accomplishments of others. Regardless of the "regiment" into which we are eternally enrolled, just as each believer is a special living stone memorialized before the Lord (Zech.9:16; 1Pet.2:5), so each tribe receives its own unique blessings (as can be seen from a comparison of the blessings of Jacob and Moses referenced above). Moreover, each tribe is worthy of special, distinctive memorialization, as evidenced by the beautiful gemstone which is uniquely its own, and by its own individualized gate, each being associated with a specific, high-ranking angel and apostle-prince. Even the lowest-ranking person in the lowest-ranking tribe of Dan, that is, the believer who has earned the least possible reward of everyone in the entire Church, will still be blissfully happy for all eternity, possessing a full share of Jesus Christ, access to the tree of life, and an eternal lodging in the New Jerusalem. Thus even the absolute least in the eternal kingdom has "won the victory" (1Cor.15:54-57; 1Jn.5:4; Rev.2:7; 2:11; 2:17; 2:26; 3:5; 3:12; 3:21), receiving as a result "glory and honor and immortality" with eternal peace and blessing (Rom.2:7-9), and will be inestimably better off than the least unrighteous unbeliever of all condemned to the Lake of Fire.
It will be noted from the above that the tribe of Levi is not assigned a gate in the New Jerusalem. Levi, of course, was selected from the other tribes for special ministry to the Lord. As such, Levi was not represented by a gemstone inscribed with its name on the high priest's breastplate. That did not mean, however, that Levi had no place or inheritance in Israel. Quite to the contrary, the members of that tribe had chosen the Lord over their own flesh and blood (Ex.32:26-29). As a result, Levi's place was special (Deut.33:8-11), and the Lord Himself was their inheritance (Deut.10:9). The Levites were specially "set apart to the Lord" (Ex.32:29), being uniquely blessed on account of their dedication to the Lord rather than somehow left out. We see evidence of something similar in the existence of special colleges of elect angels (e.g., the cherubs, the archangels, the four angels of the winds, etc.), namely, specific individuals who have been set apart entirely from the organization of angelic clans, no doubt for exemplary service. In this regard, therefore, we may posit that in addition to these twelve divisions of the Church, there also exists an elite cadre of individuals, analogous to and represented by the tribe of Levi, who have an especially close relationship to the Lord – in reward for their esteeming Him beyond all other things in this life. The unnamed two who will sit at Jesus' right and left hands clearly belong to this category, and no doubt the apostles too, despite their princely leadership of the twelve divisions (analogous here to the archangels who likewise form a group apart). We may also expect the Old Testament prophets to be included in this elite group (inasmuch as the Church is built upon the foundation of "the apostles and the prophets": Eph.2:20). The key characteristic which will merit inclusion into this most august number, however, will be martyrdom (Rev.20:4). The 144,000 definitely seem to be included (cf. Rev.14:1-5), for example, and while some of the great prophets and apostles may not have been put to death for the Lord (and while some who die of persecution may not be accorded the honor of inclusion into this exclusive group), martyrdom on the part of exceptional believers who have otherwise achieved the highest level of reward and right to membership in the highest ranking named tribe (i.e., Judah), would seem to be the most common basis for inclusion into the number of the unnamed tribe of Levi, specially set apart to the Lord for all eternity. At the very least, we may expect that all such believers will have come to the point of experiencing serious persecution for the Name of Jesus, not only believing, trusting, honoring, and reflecting the Person of Christ, but also of sharing His sufferings (1Pet.4:13; cf. Rom.8:17; 2Cor.1:5; Phil.3:10; Col.1:24; cf. 2Cor.12:7-10).
(19) For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision that comes from the Spirit of Jesus Christ, (20) in keeping with my expectation and hope that I will in no way be put to shame, but that now as ever, holding nothing back, Christ will be magnified by means of this body of mine, whether through my life, or through my death. (21) For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
While not specifically named, we may expect that the distribution of apostles and angels associated with the twelve gates and their tribes and gemstones is likewise based upon merit. Therefore it would be most unlikely if Paul were not the apostle of the Judah gate (with John and Peter filling out the east-side tribes). As to the angels, it is perhaps not unwarranted to speculate that the same angels who were associated with the seven eras of the Church are likely to be the individuals who continue in a mission of symbolic human-angelic liaison.74 To them we may add the unnamed head-angels charged with similar duties during each of the four millennial days preceding the Church, and the angel with this mission during the Tribulation (a special joint period between Israel and the Church, not covered under the seven angels' mandate).75
Finally, as suggested above, it is entirely appropriate that the names of the twelve tribes should be given to the divisions of the eternal organization of the Church; we are all now one in Christ, made near through His blood with the middle wall of partition which divided us removed by His sacrifice (Deut.32:8; Micah 5:3; Rom.11:17-21; Gal.6:15-16; Eph.2:11-21).76 Moreover, as we have noted in the past, based upon the information given by the Jewish ceremonial calendar the final composition of the family of God (Church and Friends of the Bride taken together) will likely be of original gentiles and original Jews in equal proportion (with Jews streaming to the Lord in disproportionate numbers during the Millennium).77
The Interior of the City
(21b) And the city's [network of] main streets was pure gold as if [made of] diaphanous crystal. (22) And I did not see a temple in the [city], for the Lord God the Almighty is its temple, and [so is] the Lamb. (23) And the city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God illuminated it and the Lamb was its lamp. (24) And the nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it. (25) And the gates of the city shall never be closed in the daytime. Indeed, there will be no night there [at all]. (26) And they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations (i.e., everything valuable and fine) into it. (27) And nothing profane and no doer of abominations or any liar will enter into [the city], only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
The Streets: The Greek word plateia (πλατεῖα), usually translated "street" (ASV, ESV, KJV, NASB; the NIV has"great street"), is actually referring to the main road-network which connects all the aforementioned gates to city's central hub, "the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev.22:1; 22:3). Obviously, for a city of over 2.5 million square miles in area, there is more than one, single street. And just as obviously, each of its twelve main gates must have a major artery entering and exiting through it (for, after all, it must be through these gates that "the kings of the earth bring their glory into [the city]": Rev.21:24). Often, the Greek word in question is used of a city square, and we may imagine that each of the twelve major arteries in this network possess extreme width (in keeping with the vast size of the city and its gates). That is especially so when one considers that these streets will have the river of living water running down through their midst, with a veritable forest of trees, the tree of life, populating both banks in each case. These twelve massive streets must radiate out from the center of the city like spokes from a hub, intersecting the wall at their respective gates. While it is possible that the angles separating them are equal (i.e., 30̊ each), thus determining the positioning of the gates, it seems much more likely that the courses of these main avenues are determined by the need to intersect their corresponding gates (which are most likely spaced proportionally along the wall). As impressive as this network of boulevards will be, it is its composition which seems to have caught the apostle's attention. The grid is described in terms which are similar but not identical to those of the city. The crystalline gold of which the streets are composed is not merely translucent but "diaphanous". These words are synonyms in English, of course, but the latter word brings out the additional quality which the Greek adjective diauges (διαυγής) is meant to convey: not merely transparent but possessing an illuminative property which makes the golden avenues stand out perspicuously even in the midst of a city made of translucent gold. It is certainly appropriate for this network of radiating streets to figure prominently even in the midst a city more beautiful than the mind of man could ever conceive. In this way, both the entrances into the city (which will likewise be exceptionally conspicuous as gigantic, white, shining pearls) and the avenues which lead through the gates to center of the city will symbolize what was most important in this life: they will lead to and point towards the One who is the Gate to eternal life (Jn.10:7-9; cf. Matt.7:13-14), the One who is the only Way to the Father (Jn.14:6; cf. Matt.7:13-14), our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For the throne in the city's center will be the hub from which the twelve illuminated arteries radiate and whence they lead, towering above the city below (cf. Zech.8:3; Rev.22:1), and shining forth with the glory of God Himself (Rev.21:23; 22:5).
Lodgings: John's impression of the interior of the city as made of transparent gold (Rev.21:18b) is our only indication of the nature of the lodgings New Jerusalem contains. We have already seen that the city's major avenues will provide an abundance of open space. It also goes without saying that around the throne in the center of the city must be a very large open space to accommodate the assembly of the Lord's people in His presence as it was in the past (Job 1:6; 2:1), and as is presently the case (Rev.5:11; 7:9). Also, we should not imagine that the rest of the city area is entirely "built out" anymore than would be the case with a contemporary polis. That is to say, the Greek word πόλις (found at 12 times in Rev.21-22) may envisage an entire country, including all of its territory (and the size of New Jerusalem, after all, is nearly the size of the continental United States). We can say that the buildings must produce a profoundly moving impression to rate the general description John gives of the city proper.
Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, and believe also in Me. There are many rooms in my Father's house. If there were not, I would have told you. For I am going in order to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to Myself, so that where I am, you may be also.
Given the enormous size of New Jerusalem and Jesus' promise above, it is clear that every believer will have an eternal lodging in the golden city, and we may be sure that even for the least and the last that residence will be wonderful beyond description. The present heavenly Jerusalem is also the abode of angels (Heb.12:22), and we may expect that to be the case in New Jerusalem as well (cf. Gen.3:24; Ex.36:8; Ps.36:7 [Hebrew]; Rev.4:4-10; 5:11; 21:12). We cannot say whether or not our eternal dwellings are already presently in place in the heavenly Jerusalem, but as the final full-complement of the Church is apparently precisely equal to the number of fallen angels, the possibility exists that believers will occupy the former residences of Satan's followers, just as we have replaced them in the family of God (cf. Lk.11:22).78
Each of the twelve tribes undoubtedly occupies the area on both sides of its main avenue to a parallel which is equidistant from the neighboring avenue on either side. If such is the case, the geometric effect will be that the territories of the four tribes occupying the four central-gate regions will be significantly smaller than those of the eight tribes on either side of each of the four corners – that is, assuming, as certainly appears to be the case, that the gates of the city are spaced at equal distances around the wall (and such would certainly seem to be so from the description given in verses nineteen through twenty-one, with the foundations stones appearing to be identical in size, filling the intervals between the gates). For New Jerusalem is a square, not a circle, and therefore the angles at which the twelve major arteries will radiate outward in order to intersect with the gates so positioned will not be identical. The geometric result will be a noticeably smaller area for the tribes occupying the four central-gates regions. Certainly, this disparity might be offset in a number of ways (e.g., if the central square is positioned obliquely, with its four corners touching the east-west, north-south axes, then at some magnitude its expansion could theoretically render all twelve areas equal, though the unknown width of the avenues makes that point impossible to compute). However, it may also be the case that, as in all other things in the Christian life, extremes whether good or bad tend to be more frequent occurrences than the mean between the two. It may very well be that in all four classes of response to the plan and will of God, more believers have tended to cluster around minimal and maximal effort than to find a medium between the two. In terms of the particular location of our eternal dwelling within the tribe of our final allotment, it is clear that being closer to the Lord will be more desirable, and farther away less so. We may expect that in each case the greater the reward earned in this life, the larger the habitation, and the higher up the hill upon which the throne resides and the closer to the Lord it will be. But although a place near the wall is for these reasons the least desirable situation, it will still be infinitely better to be "a doorkeeper in the house of God" than to rate the most prestigious place "in the tents of the wicked" (Ps.84:10).
The Throne: We have had occasion to treat the present-day, heavenly throne along with the angelic elders and cherubs who attend it in our coverage of Revelation chapters 4-7 (in part 2B of this series).
(2) Immediately I came to be in the Spirit, and, behold, a throne had been placed in the [third] heaven, and [some] One was sitting [upon it]. (3) And the One sitting [on the throne was] similar in appearance to a gemstone of jasper or sardius. And there was a rainbow (i.e., the glory of God) around the throne similar in appearance to [something] made of emerald. (4) And encircling the throne were twenty-four [other] thrones. And on the[se] thrones twenty-four elders were sitting, dressed in white clothing. And on their heads were golden crowns. (5) And from the throne [of God] come forth flashes of lightning, voices and peals of thunder. And there [stood] burning before the throne seven lamps of fire, which are the seven spirits of God. (6) And in front of the throne [was something] like a sea of glass similar to crystal. And in the midst of throne, encircling the throne, were four living-creatures, laden with eyes in front and in back. (7) And the first living-creature was similar to a lion. And the second living-creature was similar to a young bull. And the third living-creature had a face similar to a man's. And the fourth living-creature was similar to an eagle in flight.
Apart from the absence of the indications of judgment (i.e., flashes of lightning, voices and peals of thunder), and the absence of the crystal sea (unnecessary as a view-port to earth since the city has now come to earth), the text suggests that the throne will be the same one upon which the Father and Son presently sit in state. There will be no temple building in New Jerusalem, however, as "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Rev.21:22; contrast with Rev.7:15; 11:19; 14:15-17; 15:5-6; 16:1; 16:17). Situated at the precise center of the city and on elevated ground from which the river of the water of life flows forth, the glory of God in the Persons of the Father and the Son will illuminate the world with a brilliant rainbow of light more intense than seven suns (Is.30:26), as the Shekinah glory can finally be unveiled without destroying the now perfected creatures privileged to gaze upon the Lord as He actually is (Ex.33:18-23).
Outside the City: The gates of New Jerusalem will always be open (Rev.21:25). For there will nevermore be any night (Rev.21:25; 22:5), no time of insecurity and danger, nor will anything profane even be able to enter in, since all sinfulness has been burnt out of the New Heavens and the New Earth. The "kings of the nations" will "bring their glory" (i.e., everything valuable and fine produced in the perfect new universe) into the city (Rev.21:24; 21:26), and the nations they represent will "walk by its light" (Rev.21:24). Furthermore, the leaves of the tree(s) of life will benefit these nations outside the city wall (Rev.22:2). From this compound description it is very clear that there will be a sizeable population living outside of the city wall. It is also clear that they, and in particular their leaders, will enter the city on a regular basis. Therefore this elect group must be carefully distinguished from those mentioned by John at Revelation 22:15 (i.e., "outside are the dogs", etc.). For those reprobates are being deliberately contrasted in that passage with this group which precedes it in verse fourteen, a whole host of people who have "the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city". The "dogs" are those who have been committed to the Lake of Fire, with "outside" referring to the "outer darkness" (Matt.8:12; 22:13; 25:30); the key idea in both cases is one of complete separation from God (the Greek words are exo and exoteros respectively, the latter being the comparative form of the former). That is to say, "outside" refers not just to the New Jerusalem, but to being "outside" the Lord's eternal state entirely (i.e., in the Lake of Fire). For only the names of believers will still be found "in the book of life" as the names outside-believers are said to be (Rev.21:27).
Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again.
Isaiah 52:1 NIV
The population of the New Earth outside of New Jerusalem will be composed of the Friends of the Bride, that is, the contingent of millennial believers not resurrected and rewarded until history's end. In number, these will equal the Bride, so that together saved humanity will be equal in number to elect angelic-kind (Satan and his followers having been replaced one for one by the Church, with the millennial cohort furnishing Christ with His "double portion").79 The Friends of the Bride will be composed of gentiles (whose kings are described in Rev.21:24), but also of Jews in disproportionately large numbers (we have posited elsewhere that the proportion of three to one of gentiles to Jews in the Church will be exactly reversed during the Millennium).80 Directly outside of the city, therefore, we may expect to find the New Israel, in proportion to its capital city greatly expanded in its territory (cf. Gen.17:7):
"Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring."
Genesis 28:14 NIV
The remainder of the greatly enlarged New Earth (and possibly also the rest of the New Heavens, for that matter), will be occupied and husbanded by the gentile Friends of the Bride.
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He divided the sons of men, He established the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.
The River of the Water of Life and the Tree of Life
(1) And He showed me the river of the water of life, sparkling like crystal[s of ice], coming forth from the throne of God and of the Lamb. (2) In the middle of the [New Jerusalem's network of twelve main] streets and on both sides of [this] river [of the water of life which ran through them] was the tree of life, producing twelve crops, offering its fruit every month, month by month. And the leaves of the tree are for the enjoyment of [all] the nations, (3a) so that there will no longer be any division.
Just as the river proceeding from Eden (which watered the garden) and the river from the millennial temple (which will water the Arabah and western sea) are prominent elements of their respective paradises, so the river of the water of life will be a dominating feature of New Jerusalem. The same also applies in all three cases to the tree of life. For New Jerusalem, however, this prominence will be abundantly true not only from the tangible aspect of the blessings they will provide forever, but also for their important symbolism. The tree of life represents our Lord Jesus, and eating of its fruit symbolizes placing our faith in Him81; the truth about Jesus is the spring of living water welling up to eternal life for all who drink thereof:
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. The one who comes to Me shall not hunger, and the one who believes in Me shall not thirst forever".
And all of them (i.e., the Exodus generation) drank the same spiritual drink (i.e., divinely provided water symbolizing the truth in which one believes). For all of them drank from the spiritual[ly significant] Rock which followed them – for that Rock was Christ.
1st Corinthians 10:4
For those who put their faith in Jesus in this life, the water of life and the tree of life will provide spiritual sustenance and physical blessing beyond present understanding and for all eternity.
(7) [Lord,] how precious is your mercy! Both the mighty ones (i.e., angels) and the sons of men will take shelter under your wings. (8) They will drink their fill from the richness [that flows] from your house, for You will give them drink from your river of delights. (9) For with You is the fountain of life. Through your light [on that day] we shall see [true] light.
The River of the Water of Life: Just as the river that watered the garden came forth from God's place of "delight", Eden, and just as the millennial river of water which enlivens the Dead Sea comes forth from the temple, so the eternal river of the water of life will come forth from the throne of God, demonstrating clearly the source of eternal life and source of everlasting blessing. Instead of the river of fire which had flowed forth from the throne for judgment (Dan.7:10), this river emanates from the throne in its final resting place on earth as both a symbolic and tangible source of God's grace for His people.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, let him come to the waters!
As discussed above, the "street" mentioned in Revelation 22:2 above is really the New Jerusalem's network of streets. Therefore the river of the water of life which comes forth from the throne of the Father and the Son does not descend from the eternal Mount Zion in one channel only, but in twelve, flowing down the middle of each of the twelve capacious boulevards, and exiting the city through each of the twelve gates to water the face of the eternal Israel and the New Earth (cf. Ezek.47:1-12: while Ezekiel is given to see only the eastern stream issuing from the millennial temple, there are in fact two: Zech.14:8). The water itself, "sparkling like crystal[s of ice]", will be a delight to behold and will provide physical and spiritual blessings for all who partake of it. Since water is a biblical symbol for God's Word of truth (Is.55:1-3; Jn.3:5; 3:8 [Greek]; 4:10; 4:13-14; 7:37-39; 1Cor.10:4; Eph.5:26; Heb.10:22; 1Jn.5:8 [of the Trinity]; Rev.7:17; 21:6; 22:1; 22:17; cf. Ex 17:5-6; Num. 20:8; Ps.42:1-2; 63:1; 84:5-7; Is.41:17; 44:3), it will perhaps be the case that the particular spiritual nourishment the water provides is precisely that, namely, truth about the Lord, all He is and all He has done. For Jesus is the true spring of living water (Is.8:6; Jer.2:13; 17:13; Jn.4:10-14; 7:38; Rev.7:17). It is thrilling to consider that these waters will never run dry, and that even were a person to drink from them without pause for all eternity, it would still not be possible to drain to the depths the source of truth about the God who made us, loved us, and saved us in Jesus Christ our dear Lord.
One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.
Psalm 27:4 NIV
And the Spirit and the bride say "Come!" And let the one who hears say, "Come!" And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
The Tree of Life: There are several important things to note about the tree of life which may not be immediately obvious from an English version. First, the word "tree" is used here in a collective sense. What we have do with here is a veritable forest of trees. Second, this forest lines both sides of the river of living water along all twelve channels, over 20,000 miles of network, and on both sides of the river channels at that. We can also only guess at the width of the river or of breadth of the wooded area occupied on each side, but the proportions of the city and the likely extensive span of each of the twelve avenues argue for a not inconsiderable distance. Simply put, the tree of life will cover a good deal of territory in New Jerusalem. Third, the twelve crops are not produced sequentially, but simultaneously, regardless of the time of the year (that is the meaning of "every month, month by month"). Rather than being temporally separated, the fruit is geographically separated: the trees along each of the twelve branches of the river bring forth a different type of produce, one for each tribe (in a manner analogous to the twelve loaves of the bread of presence set out in the tabernacle to represent the twelve tribes of Israel: Lev.24:5-9). This diversity of location will encourage the visitation of residents of every tribe to all other areas of the city, in order the better to enjoy and appreciate the whole of New Jerusalem.
(12) Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, (13) consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation. (14) For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.
Psalm 48:12-14 NIV
When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out the north gate. No one is to return through the gate by which he entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate.
Ezekiel 46:9 NIV
There are three important aspects to the tree of life and its fruit, all of which are symbolized by the furniture in the tabernacle-temple; and all of these symbols are inextricably bound to the Person of the One who is the revealed member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the true tree of life (Jn.15:1-8; Rom.11:17-24). The golden lampstand symbolizes the appearance of the tree of life (Ex.25:33-34)82; the bread of the presence on the golden table symbolizes its fruit (Lev.24:5-9); and the incense from the golden altar recalls its fragrance (cf. 2Cor.2:15). For Jesus is the light of the world (Jn.8:12), the bread of life (Jn.6:35), and the sweet savor of salvation which propitiates our sins (Eph.5:2; cf. Heb.7:27; 9:14). The tree of life will thus be the source of palpable joy in its appearance, fragrance, and taste (cf. Gen.2:9; Ezek.47:12). And in this last blessing in particular, the feature emphasized in our context with the reference to the twelve crops, the benefits and delights of partaking of the various fruits will be enormous, eternal manna from God, everlasting communion in the participation of the Body of Christ, a pleasurable experience that will surpass to infinity anything offered by this present, visible world.
We are also told that the foliage of the trees will likewise produce great benefits, though here again the English versions can be misleading. The Greek word therapeia (θεραπεία), the source of our "therapy", may indeed have a medicinal meaning, but not necessarily so. Its primary application has to do with care and oversight, a function which does not require some prior problem as in the case of illness (cf. Lk.12:42). Therefore "positive use" or "enjoyment" is a far preferable translation in this context where all tears have now been wiped away forever. This benefit of the tree of life will then be some sort of pleasurable activity apart from eating, and one its prime applications will be the production of unity among all believers. For the occurrence of the word "curse" found in most of the versions in verse three of chapter twenty-two is based upon a misreading of the text (as we have seen, the "curse" of Genesis chapter three had already been removed at Christ's return: Rom.8:21; cf. Zech.14:11 NASB only). As Sinaiticus makes clear, the correct Greek text reads katagma (κατάγμα) "division", not katathema (κατάθεμα) "curse". In New Jerusalem there will be no further divisiveness between the tribes, now composed of Jews and gentiles both, nor between the Bride and the Friends of the Bride. The therapeutic foliage of the tree of life will provide a pleasurable means of fellowship and harmony between all believers forevermore (Ps.47:9; Zech.2:11; Jn.10:16; 11:52).
Happy are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to [access] the tree of life, and [the right to pass through] the gates so that they may enter the city.
The Blessed Eternal State of the Saved
(3b) And the throne of God and of the Lamb is within her (i.e., New Jerusalem), and His servants will worship Him, (4) and they will see His face, and His Name will be on their foreheads. (5) And there will no longer be any night nor will they have any need of the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shine upon them, and they will reign forever and ever.
The Character of our Eternal Life: As to the precise construction of the New Earth and New Heavens and our activities therein, scripture gives us only a little information. That is decidedly a good thing, because if we knew in great detail how wonderful the eternity we anticipate will be, we might be tempted to think of nothing else. Such detailed knowledge also might remove some of the challenge to our spiritual growth. As it is, believers have to exert a certain amount of sanctified will-power to "think about the things above" (as we are commanded to do: Col.3:1-2).
We are given to know certain things, however, and it is possible to make some sanctified assumptions from the information we do have. For example:
We will inhabit an amazing, perfect body forever. We know some
important things about our future resurrection body from the example
of our Lord in resurrection, since "when He appears, we shall be
like Him" (1Jn.3:2).83
We will enjoy the visual and sensual delights of the New Jerusalem,
the city itself, the river of the water of life, the fruits of the
tree of life and leaves of blessing, the beauty of the city, its
walls, gates and foundations, the novelties produced and brought
into the city, eternal fellowship with all our kindred believers in
Jesus Christ, etc. All these will be eternal joys which will be all
the more enjoyable because of the perfect body we shall command,
being not only incapable of any ill-feeling, but also possessing a
greatly expanded capacity to appreciate the wonders to come.
We will likely have the expanded and perfected new universe to
explore forever. Since our Lord is capable of walking through closed
doors, moving immediately from one far distant place to another, and
ascending through the universe to the third heaven, it would seem to
be rather incongruous to give us His Church bodies capable of such
swift, amazing travel, then restrict us to one particular place
(viz., we shall be superior to angels, and they currently ply the
We will have direct access to the Son and the Father for all time, and that will be by far the "best of the best" of anything anyone could ever possibly have or experience. We only understand that now in principle, but on that glorious day of days we will "know even as we are known" (1Cor.13:12).
In a word, we cannot yet truly appreciate what is to come. We behold that future glory only dimly as a distant reflection (1Cor.13:12), but we can take great encouragement from the contrasts scripture provides between the difficult life we now patiently endure and the blessed existence that awaits us on the other side of the veil.
Instead of death, only life (Jn.3:15-16).
Instead of sin, only righteousness (2Pet.3:13).
Instead of tears, only joy (Ps.16:11).
Instead of pain, only blessing (Rev.22:2).
Instead of want, only plenty (Rev.21:24).
Instead of trouble, only peace (Lk.20:34-36).
Instead of darkness, only light (Rev.22:5).
Instead of separation from God, eternity in the presence of God (Rev.22:4).
That this last contrast encapsulates all that will be truly good and wonderful in New Jerusalem may be seen from the context of our passage, Revelation 22:3b-5. For this passage summarizes our blessed eternal status by listing five salient characteristics of our glorious life to come, all five of which are focused not on us or our resurrection bodies but on the Lord:
1. Our Worship of God: "His servants will worship Him": The word often translated "serve" here is better rendered as "worship", for that is the substance of which our eternal service to the Lord will be composed.84 These acts of worship which we shall thoroughly enjoy, "with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng" (Ps.42:4 NIV), will not consist of the shadows of the Law or hollow, invented liturgies which are really only "the teachings of men" (Is.29:13; Col.2:22). Rather, they will be genuine and heart-felt acts of worship occurring in accordance with a perfect and specifically prescribed pattern. This perfect worship arranged, designed, and ordained by God Himself will thrill our hearts in an unimaginable way, and we will never have to wonder about when to come before Him, what to bring, what to do, or whether a particular hymn or rite or ceremony or expression is right or correct. Our worship, our service of adoration to the Lord will be perfect on that great day, and incapable of being otherwise, for we will be an eternal "kingdom of priests" (Rev.1:6; 5:20; 20:6).85
(23) But the hour is coming, and in fact has already arrived, when the true worshipers [of God] will worship the Father in spirit (i.e., spiritually: our spirit responding to His Spirit) and in truth (i.e., truthfully: our heart responding to His truth). Indeed, it is just such worshipers that the Father is seeking. (24) For God is spirit, and those who worship Him must do so spiritually (lit., in spirit) and truthfully (lit., in truth).
2. Our Fellowship with God: "they will see His face": While at present, no one living has seen God (Ex.33:20; Jn.6:46; 1Tim.6:16), on that great day we shall all see Him face to face (1Cor.13:12); we shall all be with and enjoy the presence of dear Lord Jesus in Person (Jn.14:3; 2Thes.1:10). For the Bride and the Groom will be united as one forevermore (Ps.45:9-11), never to part (Rev.3:12; cf. 1Cor.3:16-17; 6:19; 1Pet.2:5). For we shall be His people, and He will be our God (Gen.7:17; Jer.31:33; Ezek.37:27).
3. Our Relationship with God: "His Name will be on their foreheads": The levitical priests wore a plate of pure gold on their turbans inscribed "Holy to the Lord" (Ex.28:36). As a kingdom of priests, we too will have an special identification of our status as God's eternal possessions. For He will place His sacred Name on our foreheads that all who see may know that we belong to Him forever (Is.43:7).
4. Our Capacity to Appreciate God: "the Lord God will shine upon them": The darkness of this present world which symbolized divine judgment has now given way to a universe of light in which darkness has ceased to exist. The presently unapproachably brilliance of the glory of God on that day will be given to us to view in awe and reverence. Indeed, it will be the source of light, infinitely brighter than anything presently imaginable (cf. Is.30:26), which will illuminate the entire New Heavens and New Earth. In resurrection, we will not only have the ability to look upon the Shekinah glory without being immediately destroyed, but will also be able to appreciate the wonder of it. One in Jesus, the Light of this present world (Jn.8:12), we will no longer have any need of lamps or the sun or any other indirect source: from the eternal Mount Zion, the "Place-of-Light", the glory of God will suffuse the entire universe. Nor will there ever be another night, nor any need for us to sleep: there will be no need to miss a moment of eternity, and we shall have the capacity to appreciate and enjoy this and every other eternal blessing to the full.
5. Our Sharing of God's Reign: "they will reign forever and ever": Under the Genesis curse, hard work is required to survive in this present world. But mankind was never created to be idle. Even in the garden, Adam was given a desirable and enjoyable occupation, "to work [the garden] and take care of it" (Gen.2:15), and Eve was designed as a "helper compatible with him" (Gen.2:18). Therefore if the blessings already alluded to do not seem sufficient to pass eternity, we may sure that we will not find ourselves without delightful and pleasurable tasks to perform, work that is in no way burdensome, but instead perfectly complements who we each are. Beyond all question, the most wonderful such occupation to contemplate is that of sharing in the rulership of the universe with our Lord, a blessing of which our context makes clear even the lowest gatekeeper of New Jerusalem will partake. While the devil and those who chose his side had as their ultimate objective the wresting of universal rulership from God, we who have humbly chosen to follow and serve Jesus in this life will find Him and His Father generously sharing their eternal rule with us forever.
Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.
Daniel 7:27 NIV
But of all these things, our greatest source of joy and surprise, engagement and wonder will be the Person of God Himself in the face our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We who have trusted God to bring us through the tough times of this life can certainly trust Him that, after the testing and trials of this life are past, He will provide us with only the brightest and the best, things beyond comprehension, "eternal delights at Thy right hand forevermore" (Ps.16:11). For Jesus has been our fortress and our refuge in this life, our Shepherd and our Friend. Jesus is our true home, and He will be so forever. Amen.
Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, and believe also in Me. There are many rooms in my Father's house. If there were not, I would have told you. For I am going in order to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and take you to Myself, so that where I am, you may be also.
[Go to Coming Tribulation part 6: Last Things]
(Go to: part 6 of Coming Tribulation: Last Things)