The Old Testament reading for today comes from Ezekiel 40:1-6 and 43:1-12. When we read the sermon text for today, which is Revelation 21:9-27, you will quickly recognize that the Ezekiel passage and the Revelation passage are connected, for the visions that Ezekiel the Prophet and John the Apostle received were similar. The vision of Revelation 21:9-27 shows that the vision of Ezekiel chapters 40-48 will find its ultimate fulfillment in the new heavens and new earth.
Ezekiel was a sixth-century B.C. prophet who ministered to Judah during the Babylonian captivity. Judah and Israel were taken away from their city and temple, but Ezekiel was shown a vision of the temple and city of Jerusalem rebuilt with such glory and spender and tremendous size that the message was clear – though Israel and Judah had been taken captive, God was not done with them, but would accomplish his purposes through them. God would accomplish his redemptive purpose, which was to, through Israel, redeem a people from every tongue, tribe and nation, so that he would be their God and they his people. He would dwell in the midst of them for all eternity in a most immediate way. The glory of the Ezekiel 40-48 temple and city pointed to the fact the Lord would do something far greater in the future than anything Israel had seen before. This vision and prophesy that we are about to read from in Ezekiel 40 and 43 found its original and inaugurated fulfillment in the first coming of Christ. The prophesy will be fulfilled supremely and consummately at Christ’s return, when all things will be made new, and all will be temple, the new heavens and earth being filled with the glory of the Almighty, as Revelation 21:9-27 shows.
Old Testament Reading: Ezekiel 40:1–6; 43:1–12; 48:35
“In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me to the city. In visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south. When he brought me there, behold, there was a man whose appearance was like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand. And he was standing in the gateway. And the man said to me, ‘Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.’ And behold, there was a wall all around the outside of the temple area, and the length of the measuring reed in the man’s hand was six long cubits, each being a cubit and a handbreadth in length. So he measured the thickness of the wall, one reed; and the height, one reed. Then he went into the gateway facing east, going up its steps, and measured the threshold of the gate, one reed deep” (Ezekiel 40:1–6, ESV).
The measuring continues through chapter 42. When we come to chapter 43 we read, “Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face. As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple. While the man was standing beside me, I heard one speaking to me out of the temple, and he said to me, ‘Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever. And the house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they, nor their kings, by their whoring and by the dead bodies of their kings at their high places, by setting their threshold by my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them. They have defiled my holy name by their abominations that they have committed, so I have consumed them in my anger. Now let them put away their whoring and the dead bodies of their kings far from me, and I will dwell in their midst forever.’ As for you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out. This is the law of the temple: the whole territory on the top of the mountain all around shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the temple” (Ezekiel 43:1–12, ESV).
In Ezekiel chapter 45 the focus of the vision shifts away from the temple to the land of Israel and to the city of Jerusalem. The last verse of Ezekiel is 48:35 and it says, “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There” (Ezekiel 48:35, ESV).
New Testament Reading: Revelation 21:9-27
“Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:9–27, ESV).
There have been times in our study of the book of Revelation that a passage feels overwhelming to preach. This is because many of the visions shown to John are complex. The visions shown to John and recorded for us in the book of Revelation are interconnected. Many of the visions found early in the book of Revelation anticipate later visions, and visions found later in the book of Revelation harken back to earlier visions, so that the individual visions of the book of Revelation are interwoven. And the same thing can be said concerning the relationship between the book of Revelation and the rest of scripture. The visions shown to John constantly connect with Old Testament texts, showing how the prophecies, types and shadows of Old Testament find their fulfillment in Christ during the church age or at the end of time. When I think of the book of Revelation I think of a rich tapestry. The closer you look at it the more aware you become of the complexity of its parts and its interconnectedness. The further back that you stand from the book the more simple, clear and beautiful the picture appears. Here is one of those passages where the interconnectedness of the book of Revelation is most apparent.
I’ve already mentioned that Revelation 21:9-27 shows the ultimate fulfillment of Ezekiel 40-48. In both visions the Prophet and the Apostle were taken in the Spirit to a high mountain and were shown a vision. Ezekiel saw a temple and then a city. John, the city of Jerusalem. Both the Prophet and Apostle were instructed to measure. So much more could be said concerning the meaning of Ezekiel 40-48, but now is not the time. For now it is sufficient to say that the vision recorded for us in the Ezekiel 40-48 finds its ultimate fulfillment in the new heavens and new earth. This will become even more apparent as we consider Revelation 22:1-5 next week, Lord willing. The imagery of Revelation 21:9-27 is rooted in the Old Testament, particularly Ezekiel chapters 40-48.
But the text that is before us today is also interconnected with other portions of the book of Revelation. Here in Revelation 21 the elect of God are symbolized by “the holy city, new Jerusalem, [which John saw] coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2, ESV).
Notice from the outset that this vision is not about a literal city, but it is about God’s people gathered and kept secure in the new heavens and new earth with the glory of God dwelling in the midst of them. Remember where we are. We are in the book of Revelation which communicates truth via symbol. In this vision John saw the “holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” and this city, we are told, symbolizes God’s people gathered and kept, with God himself dwelling in the midst of them. Remember what Ezekiel said that the name of this new Jerusalem would be: “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There” (Ezekiel 48:35, ESV). In verse 2 of Revelation 21 we were explicitly told that when John saw the city “coming down out of heaven”, what he was seeing was, the “bride [of Christ] adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2, ESV). Beginning in verse 9 everything comes to focus on this bride: “Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb’” (Revelation 21:9, ESV). This new Jerusalem clearly symbolizes the church in her glorified and consummated state. The new Jerusalem represents the bride of Christ.
This should not surprise us to find a physical thing, such as a city, representing people in the book of Revelation. Did not the city of Babylon represent all who were opposed to God and to Christ? The new Jerusalem is to be contrasted, then, with Babylon. Babylon was made desolate, but the Jerusalem from above is eternal. And do you remember how the church was represented by the temple in Revelation 11? The temple and the alter and those who worship there were measured, but the courtyard was left exposed and given to the trampling of the gentiles. Symbolized there was the church, not in her glory, but in present condition. The elect of God are indeed measured and kept secure even now. But there is more to the story. The elect of God are also given to trials, tribulations, persecutions and sufferings. There in Revelation 11 the temple stood for the church of God in this present evil age. Here in Revelation 21 the city of Jerusalem symbolizes the church of God in glory. She is the bride of Christ. She is what Christ redeemed with his blood: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25–27, ESV)
And notice that the bride of Christ of Revelation 21 is meant to be contrasted with another woman in the book of Revelation, namely the harlot of Revelation 17. Just as earthly Babylon and the heavenly Jerusalem are to be contrasted, so too Christ’s bride and the dragon’s woman are to be contrasted.
Listen again to verse 9: “Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb’” (Revelation 21:9, ESV). And compare that to what we read in 17:1: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters’” (Revelation 17:1, ESV). In 17:3 we read, “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness [or a desolate place], and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns” (Revelation 17:3, ESV). Where as in 21:10 we read, “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God…” (Revelation 21:10, ESV). The language introducing the vision of the harlot and the vision of Christ’s bride is almost exact.
The meaning of the contrast is hard to miss. Thought the godless pleasures of this world might seem to be so appealing at first, they are rotten to the core and their end is desolation. And though the things of God might on the surface seem so unappealing, to belong to God through faith in Jesus Christ is in the end, most glorious. It is infinitely better to chase after to Christ and to belong to God than to chase after the harlot and to belong to the Evil One.
Let us consider for a moment the bride of Christ in her glory.
In verse 10 John says, “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” (Revelation 21:10–11, ESV).
The first thing that John is struck by is the radiant light of the glory of God which fills the whole of the new Jerusalem.
In Revelation 4:3 John describes a vision that he saw of God on his heavenly throne. He said, “And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald” (Revelation 4:3, ESV). Now John says that the whole city is filled with this glory. Indeed, when all is made new heaven and earth will become one and God will dwell in the mist of his people.
In verse 12 John describes this symbolic city as having “a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates” (Revelation 21:12–13, ESV).
This city is perfectly secure. Its walls are great and high. Angels guard its gates. The gates are only for the elect of God to enter in. Remember that earlier in the book of Revelation the twelve tribes of Israel did clearly symbolize all who are in Christ, both Jew and Gentile. These twelve gates have “the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed” on them.
In verse 14 we read, “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14, ESV). The foundation this city is the Apostles of Christ. Those who belong to this city belong to it because they have built their life upon the testimony of Christ’s Apostles. The word of Christ and his Apostles is their foundation. Entrance into this city depends, therefore, not upon ethnicity, but upon belief in the word of Christ.
Indeed, this is how Paul speaks of the church in Ephesians 2:18 and following: “For through [Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you [Gentiles] are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18–22, ESV).
In verse 15 we read, “And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls” (Revelation 21:15, ESV). The allusion to Ezekiel 40 and following is impossible to miss. What Ezekiel the prophet saw finds it ultimate fulfillment here.
Verse 16: “The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal” (Revelation 21:16, ESV). And so the city that John saw was shaped like a cube.
Here is the size of it in terms that we can understand: 1,365 miles wide from north to south and east to west and also tall. The city is massive.
The number 12,000 is undoubtably significant. It should remind us of the numbering of the twelve tribes of Israel in Revelation 7: “12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad” (Revelation 7:5, ESV), etc., the number totaling 144,000 sealed by God. This city 12,000 stadia cubed because it is the place where all of those sealed by God will dwell for all eternity.
The cubed shape is also significant. Cities are not typically measured like this – length times width times hight. We might describe the length and width of a city, but not the hight. The cubed shape is probably meant to remind us of the most holy place which housed ark of the covenant in the tabernacle and temple (see for example 1 Kings 6:20). The meaning is this: whereas the glory of God was once confined to the most holy place in Israel’s tabernacle and temple, in the new heavens and earth all will be “most holy place” for God’s glory will fill all.
In verse 17 we read that John “also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement” (Revelation 21:17, ESV). Notice again the multiple of 12 with signifies the walls purpose – to create an eternally secure place for the people of God. 144 cubits is roughly 216 feet. Some commentators believe this to be the hight of the wall where as others believe it to be the width. I am of the opinion that it is the width for two reasons. One, in Ezekiel 40 the prophet begins by measuring the width or thickness of the wall of the temple that he saw. Two, a 216 foot high wall hardly seems appropriate for a city that has been described as having a hight of 1,365 miles. Either way, the point is that the place is secure, which signifies that God’s people will be kept secure for all eternity.
In verse 18 we read, “The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass” (Revelation 21:18, ESV). Now that the size and security of the city has overwhelmed us, we are confronted with the beauty of the place. Dr. Johnson remarks, “The gold that John’s hearers and we are familiar with is lovely and can be highly reflective, but it in no way resembles the transparency of glass. The vision stretches and even breaks the paradigm of our experience in order to covey the precious value and purity that distinguishes the bride-church’s beauty in the eyes of her husband” (Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, 313).
Verse 19: “The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst” (Revelation 21:19–20, ESV).
It is likely that these stones are the same as the ones that were embedded within the breastplate of the high priest who would enter into the most holy place once per year on the Day of Atonement as a representative of the twelve tribes of Israel. 8 of the stones match the description of the gems on the high priests breastplate in Exodus 28:17-20 as listed in the Septuagint. The other four are probably John’s translation equivalents, given that he is not following the Septuagint exactly.
The meaning is this: Under the Old Covenant one man, the high priest, did enter the most holy place once per year as a representative for all Israel. Under the New Covenant all have access to the throne of grace through faith in Christ Jesus, who is our great High Priest. In the new heavens and new earth all of God’s people will dwell forever in the most holy place which will be filled forever with the glory of God Almighty.
Verse 21: “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass” (Revelation 21:21, ESV). Again, the beauty and unimaginable spender of the place is emphasized. We should remember that we are encountering visions which communicate truth via symbol. I’m not sure that we should expect literal streets of gold or pearly. But by no means should that diminish the value of the new heavens and earth in our minds. Far from it! Indeed, our desire to enter this world should grow as we see John straining to describe what he saw. So precious will that place be that even the humble pavement will be guided in gold, metaphorically speaking.
Verse 22: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22, ESV). Here again is the principle that we have encountered time and time again. In the new heavens and new earth God’s glory will fill all. God will dwell in the midst of his people immediately, that is, without mediation or barrier. Under the Old Covenant the temple “housed” God. There the people would go to worship God and to have fellowship with him. Also, the temple did “veil” God so that the people would not be consumed by his glory. In the new heavens and earth the people of God will enjoy God’s glory having been made suitable for it by he shed blood of Christ. Indeed, the people of God will enjoy what Adam and Eve did enjoy in the garden. Better yet, they will enjoy the kind of consummate and eternal life that was offered to them, but was forfeited when they chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil over the tree of life. Christ succeeded where the first Adam failed. And if we are in him we will enjoy the fruit of his labor. We will dwell with God and he with us by virtue of Christ’s work for us and in us.
Verse 23: “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23, ESV). Notice that the text does not say, there will be no sun or moon, but that their light will not be needed within the city given the glory of God. Notice also that is God the Father who is the source of the light, and Jesus the Christ the Lamb of God who is the lamp or agent who mediates the light. This has been the relationship between Father and Son throughout the history of redemption. The Father is the source, and the Son does reveal the Father.
Verse 24: “By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (Revelation 21:24–26, ESV). This is the end goal of God’s redemption, to redeem a people for himself from every tongue, tribe and nation. The earliest chapters of Genesis reveal it. The rest of the Old Testament makes it plain. God’s purpose was to bring salvation to the nations through the Christ. Listen, for example, to Isaiah 49:6 where God speaks to his servant saying, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6, ESV). The book of Revelation has provided multiple perspectives on the end result. In Revelation 7 John saw “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” (Revelation 7:9, ESV). Here in 21:24 people and kings from all nations are present in the new heavens and earth and they do flock to the city of God to offer up gifts to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
Verse 27: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27, ESV).
Brothers and Sisters, it is the grace of God that makes the difference. It is those who are holy and pure who enter into this city, and none other. And these are holy and pure because they have believed upon Jesus the Christ who died to cover their sins. And these are able to believe because God has made the able and willing by the working of the Holy Spirit. This he determined to do from before creation having written their names in the Lamb’s book of life.
Friends, as we conclude we must remember that the image shown to John of “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God”, is not about a place, but it is about God and his people.
This vision, like most everything else in this book of Revelation, is not to be interpreted in a strictly literal fashion, but as symbolic, for this is clearly the intent of the author. What it says is real and true. What it describes will certainly come to pass. But the description is symbolic so that what we see stands for something else.
When John saw “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God”, it was not so that we might understand something of what the place will look like, but so that we might understand something about the relationship between God and his people.
This entire vision, remember, was from the beginning said to be a description of “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” For the angel did first say to John, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb”, and then what did John see except, “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” – the city symbolizes the bride, who is the church, with God in the mist of her.
If after reading or hearing this text your mind goes only to the “pearly gates” and “streets of good” then I’m afraid you’ve missed the point, for the point is not the place, but God dwelling in the midst of his people. Here is what makes the new heavens and earth heavenly – it is the enjoyment of communion with the God who made us and the Christ who redeemed us. He is the groom, we the bride. Just as the you would expect a bride and groom to look forward to life together more than the place where they dwell, so to our supreme longing should be for communion with God and Christ, and not the place.
Christ himself did speak about the place which the book of Revelation here portrays. But listen also to his emphasis – it is not about the place, but it is about the relationship between he and his people. To his disciples he said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1–3, ESV).
Brothers and sisters, I do hope that you long for heaven. I hope that you long for the new heavens and new earth. And while it is true that there is much to look forward to in that place, may your love for God be such that communing with him and the Christ whom he has sent be thing that you anticipate the most.
After Christ told his disciple about the place that he would prepare for them so that he might be with them and they with him, he did also tell them how to get there. One of his disciples named “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:4–6, ESV).
Friends, it is only those who have faith in Christ who will come into the new heavens and new earth, the new Jerusalem and into the house that God has prepared for his people. Let us be found trusting only in him.