Revelation 21 Commentary

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v.1 “The new earth became a familiar topic of Jewish end-time discussion, normally occurring after the resurrection of the dead. At a minimum, the earth had to be purified.  But in many end-time scenarios, the Day of Judgment would transform the heavens and the earth.  Two models of new creation – renewal and replacement – existed in early Judaism, but given such factors as the lack of sea, Revelation seems to use at least the image of the latter.”[1]

“There is a brief, unexplained mention that there will be no more sea.  The sea in heaven (4:6) became a threatening place, to be endured or ‘conquered’ (15:2), and the earthly sea had been the object of judgment (5:13; 7:1-2; 8:8-9; 12:12; 16:3; 18:21).  It was a place to be exploited by the mariners (18:17), and above all the sea was the place out of which the beast had arisen to threaten the eternal destiny of humanity (13:1; cf. 12:12; Mark 5:13). That threat is now removed.”[2]

v.2 What is the new Jerusalem? There is some disagreement over whether the new Jerusalem is an actual city or a symbolic representation of the church in its perfected and eternal state.  Either way, it is eternal and comes from heaven.  Like the original Jerusalem, it is to be the place where God lives with his people.”[3]

v.3 “The promise that God ‘will live’ (skenoo) with his people was a frequent Jewish hope that ultimately points back to a promise of God’s covenant for Israel (Ex. 25:8; 29:45-46; Lev. 26:12; 1 Kings 6:13; Ezek. 37:27; Zech. 2:10-11), including in the future temple (Ezek. 43:7,9).  This promise is spelled out more clearly when the text reveals that new Jerusalem is a temple city (21:22) and is shaped like the Most Holy Place (21:16).  The restoration of the temple was a specific hope for restored Jerusalem (Ezek. 37:26-28; 41-48), but in Revelation this hope is transferred to the entire city.  This will be the most explicit ‘tabernacling’ of God with humanity since the Incarnation (see John 1:14, which declares that Jesus, the Word, ‘made his dwelling’ [lit., ‘tabernacled’] among us, the only New Testament use of skenoo outside Revelation), though deceased believers in heaven have already experienced it (Rev. 7:15).  This promise was expected for end-time Israel, but here all who ‘overcome’ receive it (21:7)”[4]

v.4 What will be different when the old order of things ends? The old order is characterized by the debilitating effects of sin: suffering, sorrow, death, mourning and pain.  These will be gone forever.  God will wipe away all tears and death will be no more!”[5]

v.6 “The announcement ‘It is done!’ suggests completion, like an analogous saying of Jesus (using a different word) at the conclusion of his work in John 19:30; God’s purposes in history have come to their conclusion (cf. Rev. 10:7; 16:17) by creating a people with whom he will live (cf. Eph. 1:10).  By declaring that he is ‘the Alpha and the Omega’ (Rev. 21:6), God reminds us that he is able to accomplish what he promises.”[6]

v.7 “By itself suffering does not sufficiently qualify one for the kingdom; rather, one must overcome.  In the context of Revelation, overcoming addresses such varied tests as compromise with the world’s values (2:14, 20), dependence on our own strength (3:17), and persecution (2:10); but persecution is the test Revelation particularly emphasizes for the end-time witnesses of Jesus(12:11; 13:7).  Jewish texts often speak of inheriting the world to come, a common figure of speech among early Christians as well (e.g. Matt. 25:34; Rom. 8:17; 1 Cor. 6:9).  Here the overcomers inherit ‘all this’, that is, the new and sorrowless world God has prepared for them.”[7]

“The figurative point of all the multiple pictures of end-time blessings is interpreted at the conclusion of v.7 to be God’s presence with his people:  ‘I will be God to him and he will be a son to me.’  This periphrastically repeats the promise of God’s presence at the end of v.3, which underscores this theme as the main point of vv.1-7.  the same OT prophetic background stands behind the promise here as in v.3b so that, again, the point is that at the future consummation the repeated OT promise will be fulfilled.”[8]

v.8 Are cowards and murderers in the same league? Some suggest that each group mentioned here at one time had professed faith in Christ as Savior.  But then, under varying circumstances, they demonstrated they were not believers.  This would put them all in the same league.  Thus their fear is not normal apprehension (which is not sin), but rather a lack of commitment.”[9]

vv.9-14 “John saw a glorious city in his vision.  Some sources expected the end-time Zion to shine with glory.  After its destruction, Josephus reminisced about the wealth of the first-century Jerusalem temple, whose gates were adorned with gold and silver.  But God had promised earlier exiles the glory of a future greater than any they had seen (Hag. 2:9).  The older Jewish Christians among John’s audience, who remembered the splendor of the temple, would be touched by a description of new Jerusalem’s glorious future, just as Jewish contemporaries commend on its glorious future.”[10]

vv.12,14 “In biblical tradition twelve stones pointed to the twelve tribes (Josh. 4:3-9); in the high priest’s breastplate in Exodus 28:17-21 they are specifically inscribed with the names of the tribes.  Here, however, the foundation stones refer to the twelve apostles of the Lamb, in keeping with the Christian image of the new temple’s true foundations (Eph. 2:20; Heb. 11:10; 1 Peter 2:5).  Although Jesus is our ultimate foundation (1 Cor. 3:11), early Christian tradition already emphasized that the church was built on the foundation of apostles and prophets who revealed Jesus’ message.”[11]

vv.15-21 “The angel measures the city with a golden measuring rod. […] The act of measuring signifies securing something for blessing, to preserve it from spiritual harm or defilement. Ezekiel’s elaborate description of the future temple and its measuring was to show the glory and holiness of God in Israel’s midst (Ezek 43:12). The measuring reveals the perfection, fulfillment, or completion of all God’s purposes for his elect bride. […] These dimensions should not be interpreted as providing architectural information about the city. Rather, we should think of them as theologically symbolic of the fulfillment of all God’s promises. The New Jerusalem symbolizes the paradox of the completeness of infinity in God.”[12]

v.16Why is heaven depicted as a cube? This shape would immediately remind the Jewish reader of the inner sanctuary of the temple; the Most Holy Place, where God’s presence dwelt.  It was a perfect cube: 20 cubits high, 20 cubits wide, and 20 cubits long (1 Kings 6:20).  Here again is a ‘perfect place’ where God takes up his residence with his people.”[13]

vv.18-21 “John describes in more detail the priceless materials of which the city, with its foundations and gates, is made (cf. Isa 54:11-15). The symbolism is not meant to give the impression of wealth and luxury but to point to the glory and holiness of God. The wall of jasper points to the glory of God, while the fabric of the city is pure gold–as clear as glass (v. 21). Such imagery portrays the purity of the bride and her splendor in mirroring the glory of God (cf. Eph 5:27).”[14]

vv.22-27 “John turns from this beautiful description of the city to the life within it. In antiquity every notable city had at least one central temple. The New Jerusalem not only differs in this respect from ancient cities but also from all Jewish speculation about the age to come. Illuminated by the overflowing radiance of the presence of the glory of God, the Holy City no longer needs a temple (naos). Yet paradoxically it has a temple, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (v. 22). And in another sense, the whole city is a temple, since it is patterned after the Most Holy Place (v. 16). Jewish expectation was centered on a rebuilt temple and the restoration of the ark of the covenant. In his glorious vision, John sees the fulfillment of these hopes in the total presence of God with his purified people, while the Lamb, the sign of the new covenant is the fulfillment of the restoration of the ark of the covenant (see comments at 11:19; cf. John 4:21, 23). As long as there is uncleanness in the world, there is need for a temple where God’s presence and truth are in contrast to the uncleanness. But in the new city no such symbol is needed any longer.”[15]

vv.24-26 “Verses 24-26 present a remarkable picture of ‘the nations’ and ‘the kings of the earth’ entering the city and bringing their splendor (doxa, ‘glory,’ ‘honor,’ ‘magnificence’) into it. John sees a vision of social life, bustling with activity. Elsewhere in Revelation, the nations (ethne) are the pagan, rebellious peoples of the world who trample the Holy City (cf. comments at 11:2; 11:18) and who have become drunk with the wine of Babylon, the mother of prostitutes (18:3, 23), and who will also be destroyed by the second coming of Christ (19:15). The same description applies to the kings of the earth. But there is another use of these terms in Revelation. They stand for the peoples of earth who are the servants of Christ, the redeemed nations who follow the Lamb and have resisted the beast and Babylon (1:5; 15:3; 19:16; 2:26; 5:9; 7:9; 12:5). It is this latter group that John describes figuratively as having part in the activity in the Holy City, the kingdom of God. What this may involve regarding the relation of this life to the future kingdom is not stated.”[16]


[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) 485.

[2] Leander E. Keck, “Revelations” New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999) 720.

[3] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) 1797.

[4] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) 487.

[5] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) 1797.

[6] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) 488.

[7] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) 488.

[8] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 1058.

[9] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) 1798.

[10] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) 492.

[11] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) 493.

[12] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for verse Revelation 21:1.

[13] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) 1798.

[14] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for verse Revelation 21:1.

[15] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for verse Revelation 21:1.

[16] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for verse Revelation 21:1.

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