Rev. 21:18 – The building material of its wall was jasper, and the city was pure gold like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone: the first foundation jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 The 12 gates are 12 pearls; each individual gate was made of a single pearl. The broad street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. (HCSB)
Every kind of precious stone
John notes in verse 18 that the wall is made of jasper, and the city is pure gold like clear glass. This amplifies the information already given to us in verse 11, where the city is radiant “like a very precious stone, like a jasper stone, bright as crystal.” The city itself – the bride, the people of God – is so thoroughly purified as to become transparent. This is an image used in other scriptures to describe the refined character of God’s sanctified people:
Job 23:10 – “Yet He knows the way I have taken; when He has tested me, I will emerge as pure gold.”
Zech. 13:9 – “I will put this third through the fire; I will refine them as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say: They are My people, and they will say: Yahweh is our God.”
Mal. 3:3 – “He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.”
1 Peter 1:7 – “So that the genuineness of your faith – more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Rev. 3:18 – “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.”
The 12 gems adorning the foundations of the city (vv. 19-20) call to mind the 12 gems worn on the breastplate of the high priest, although the individual stones are not identical (see Ex. 28:15-21). Steve Gregg writes, “Since these same stones bear the names of the twelve apostles, it could be understood as a statement about the leadership of the people of God having transferred from the high priesthood of the temple to the apostles of the church” (Revelation: Four Views, p. 496).
Charles Swindoll notes four characteristics of the materials of the celestial city. First, the foundations of the city are adorned with “every kind of precious stone” (v. 19). Swindoll writes, “Such materials likely symbolize the great diversity of people who will dwell within the city’s walls. Elsewhere we read that through His shed blood Christ purchased ‘men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation’ and made them ‘a kingdom and priests to our God.’”
Second, the city itself is crystal clear and the massive wall surrounding it is transparent (vv. 11, 18). This purity and transparency contrast the solid and secret nature of physical barriers people build today to keep others at a distance. “To a certain degree, Christians today can reflect the grace and glory of God, not by hiding in the ‘inner sanctuary’ of private life but by being transparent with others,” writes Swindoll. “This means keeping the inside as pure as the outside, and then letting people see the glory of God shine through us.”
Third, the gates leading into the city are created from one giant pearl (v. 21). The pearl is a gem formed within the oyster – the only one formed by living flesh. Thus, the pearl symbolizes pain resulting in beauty – a perfect depiction of our Lord, whose suffering had an eternal purpose and opened heaven for us (John 10:9; 14:6).
Fourth, the streets of the city are made of pure gold (v. 21). Writes Swindoll, “The marble-paved streets of Ephesus, where the apostle John lived out his days, were unusually extravagant, designating it as one of the most opulent cities of the Roman Empire. Yet the opulence of the new Jerusalem will far exceed that of Ephesus or any other city. Gold, for which countless criminals have killed, will be tread upon like asphalt. No vanity. No materialism. No envy or greed. Best of all, no one will be poor in a place that paves its streets with gold” (Insights in Revelation, pp. 284-85).
One final note on the 12 precious stones: Jurgen Roloff points out that in the ancient East it was customary to join together jewels with the astrological signs of the zodiac. “In fact,” he writes, “the sequence of the jewels named in vv. 19-20 appear to correspond in reverse order to the signs of the zodiac. That is hardly accidental. To be sure, there is nothing that suggests that John intended to express any astrological symbolism as such. However, he was certainly acquainted with it and at least used here a list of jewels taken from it. Not to be completely rejected, furthermore, is the possibility that he wanted to establish a connection with the twelve jewels that, according to Exod. 28:17-20; 39:10-14, adorned the breastplate of the high priest. That the designations do not agree in every case signifies little, since the Greek equivalents to the Hebrew names for jewels were not altogether clear” (Revelation: A Continental Commentary, p. 244).
Next: I did not see a sanctuary – Revelation 21:22