Rev. 21:12 – The city had a massive high wall, with 12 gates. Twelve angels were at the gates; the names of the 12 tribes of Israel’s sons were inscribed on the gates. 13 There were three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. 14 The city wall had 12 foundations, and the 12 names of the Lamb’s 12 apostles were on the foundations. (HCSB)
A massive high wall
In verses 12-21 John describes the exterior of the New Jerusalem, turning to the interior in verses 22-27. The New Jerusalem has a “massive high wall, with 12 gates.” The walls and gates speak of protection, which angels ensure as they stand guard.
God’s people have nothing to fear from their enemies any longer. Though hated and harassed on earth, these pilgrims are now safe from all harms. Where once they wore shackles behind prison walls, they now walk freely within the gates of the heavenly city. Where once they wandered about in sheepskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated, wandering in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground, they now receive a better inheritance as they bask in the never-ending daylight of their eternal home.
Rev. 21:10 – He then carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 arrayed with God’s glory. Her radiance was like a very precious stone, like a jasper stone, bright as crystal. (HCSB)
Arrayed with God’s glory
John sees the bride, the wife of the Lamb, coming down out of heaven from God, “arrayed with God’s glory. Her radiance was like a very precious stone, like a jasper stone, bright as crystal” (v. 11).
The most significant quality of the New Jerusalem is stated at the outset. It is the radiance of God, the sign of His visible presence. As in the burning bush, the pillar of fire by night, the Shekinah glory in the Holy of Holies, and the brilliance of Jesus’ presence on the mount of transfiguration, God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.
The prophet Isaiah foretells the work of the divine warrior who penetrates the earth’s spiritual darkness (Isa. 59:17-21). As a result, Isaiah exults, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord shines over you” (Isa. 60:1).
Rev. 21:9 – Then one of the seven angels, who had held the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” (HCSB)
I will show you the bride
Rev. 21:9-27 provides more details on New Jerusalem, which John describes in verse 2 as “the Holy City … coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” In verse 9, John reports that one of the angels who held the seven bowls with the last seven plagues approaches him, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
There is an interesting parallel here. In Rev. 17:1, one of the angels from the same group – perhaps the very same angel, although the text does not say – comes to John and says, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the notorious prostitute who sits on many waters.” In both cases – the revealing of judgment on Babylon and the splendor of New Jerusalem – John is “carried away in the Spirit” and provided rare insights into the nature of both marvels.
In viewing Babylon, John is taken to a desert, whereas in viewing New Jerusalem he is taken to a great and high mountain. In Revelation chapters 17-19 we see the destruction of the sinful world order, the mourning of unbelievers who watch their treasures go up in smoke, and the rejoicing of the saints in heaven over the true and righteous judgments of God. The coming of New Jerusalem is a welcome event for all those who, like Abraham, look forward to a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb. 11:10).
Rev. 21:2 – I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. (HCSB)
The Holy City
John moves from the vision of a new heaven and a new earth in verse 1 to a New Jerusalem in verse 2: “I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.” The name “new Jerusalem” is used in only one other place in the Bible. In Rev. 3:12 Jesus says, “The victor: I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God – the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God – and My new name.”
We should note that the New Jerusalem is called “the Holy City,” in contrast with the earthly Jerusalem, which spiritually is compared to Sodom in Rev. 11:8.
John writes that the city is prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. We see the bride in Rev. 19:7-9 and we understand her to be the church, as in other New Testament passages. But in what way is the bride also the New Jerusalem?
Rev. 14:1 – Then I looked, and there on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with Him were 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.
With Him were 144,000
John sees with the Lamb “144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads” (v. 1). Who are the 144,000? Are they the same people we encounter in Revelation 7? And should the number be taken literally or symbolically?
We first hear of 144,000 in Rev. 7:4. They are identified as “slaves of our God” who are sealed “on their foreheads.” This is similar to the 144,000 in Rev. 14:1 who have the Lamb’s name “and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” This special group is sealed on earth in Revelation 7, and is referred to as “the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth” in Revelation 14. However, the sealed slaves in Revelation 7 are from “every tribe of the Israelites,” while those sealed in Revelation 14 are not identified as ethnic Jews. So, are these the same people?
It would appear so, even though there is no clear consensus among scholars. Some insist they are the same 144,000 since they are sealed by God on their foreheads and are redeemed from the earth. Those who hold this view stress that we see the 144,000 on earth in chapter 7 and in heaven in chapter 14. Other interpreters, however, say that these are two different groups: Jews in chapter 7 and the “redeemed from the human race” in chapter 14 (v. 4), suggesting that Gentiles are included in this number.