During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.
Wednesday 23 December 2020 Revelation 21:9-21
9. One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the last seven plagues came and spoke to me. He said, “Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
10. He took me away in spirit to a large, high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.
11. The brilliance of it had the glory of God, like precious stones, like jasper stones sparkling like crystal.
12. It had a large and high wall, and twelve gates. Upon the gates were twelve angels and the names of the twelve tribes, the sons of Israel, were inscribed.
13. There were from the east three gates, from the north three gates, from the south three gates, and from the west three gates.
14. The city wall had twelve foundation stones, and upon those twelve were the names of the Lamb’s twelve apostles.
15. The one speaking to me had a golden measuring stick so he could measure the city, its gates, and its wall.
16. The city is laid out as a four-cornered square. Its length is equal to its width. He measured with his stick twelve thousand stadia. The length, width, and height are equal.
17. He measured its wall at one hundred forty-four cubits, as a human measures, so does an angel.
18. The enclosure of the wall is jasper. The city is pure gold like clear glass.
19. The foundation of the city all had been adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedon, the fourth emerald,
20. the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh golden stone, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.
21. The twelve gates were twelve pearls. Each of the gates was one pearl apiece. The city square was pure gold like transparent glass.
This beautiful text is mostly a description of what the angel shows John regarding the heavenly city, New Jerusalem. It is fantastical to visualize in our mind, but the text is fairly straight forward, but there are three themes I’d like to call your attention to.
The first theme is the number twelve. Revelation is a book filled with numerology and symbolic use of numbers, and here it is no different. We have in our text twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve stones, twelve tribes, twelve apostles, and twelve different kinds of stones. In addition to that we have twelve thousand stadia as the length. I did not render this in miles in my translation — which is a little over thirteen hundred miles — because that loses the twelve mojo. It is twelve thousand stadia. Then the wall is measured at one hundred forty-four cubits — I didn’t render that in feet — about 216 feet — because the point is that the width is twelve squared — one hundred forty-four.
A second theme is the completely outlandish building materials. The gates are each made from a single grand pearl. I do not want to see the oyster that produced those pearls. Then there is the references to gold, pure gold, and what I think is transparent gold (v. 21). I have rendered ‘streets of gold’ as the city square’ because that is what I think is being referenced, the town center, something like a boardwalk of plaza. It is made of something like pure gold. The taxonomy of different precious stones is not only impressive it is dizzying. Jasper is mentioned three times by my count, as well as various other rare jewels. There seems to be some discussion about what exactly is meant by chalcedon–the ESV uses agate–but it is certainly an impressive list. It seems to me to indicate that heaven is such a place of plenty that rare and valuable building materials are used for common every day functions.
The third theme is size and dimension. If I understand it correctly, this city, this New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven is equal in width, height, and length and it is a four cornered square. Heaven is then, a cube city of sorts. I don’t know how that works, but the size is enormous. Thirteen hundred miles long, wide, and high is roughly the size of North America but three dimensional. Heaven, if this description of New Jerusalem is indeed our eternal heaven, will be plenty big enough to house us all comfortably.
Questions For Application
- Which is more impressive to you, the building materials of this city or the size of it?
- Why do you think there is equal representation for the twelve tribes of Israel as well as the twelve apostles? (Side note: Do you think these twelve apostles names include Judas, or has his name been replaced with someone else, say, Paul?)
- Do you own any of these precious stones mentioned? Why do humans value these stones?
- Can you imagine walking around in this place?