“And there came to me one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and he talked with me, saying, ‘Come here, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God; and her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (Revelation 21:9-11).

The detailed description of New Jerusalem emphasizes again the reality of the Kingdom of God. There is nothing in the description to support the highly symbolic interpretations that are sometimes given. The corresponding section in the chiastic structure, the church on earth (chapters two and three), is basically literal and descriptive, which suggests that this section is fairly literal as well.

The first thing John noticed was the light that radiated from the city, like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.” There is no consensus as to exactly what precious stones are referred to here or in the stones that make up the twelve foundations of the city (verses 19,20). At any rate, today’s jasper (a form of chalcedony) is not transparent and comes in a variety of colors. Most Bible dictionaries suggest that the form mentioned in the Bible is green, which would go along with the fact that God on his throne “was like a jasper” and the rainbow glow around his throne was “in appearance like an emerald” (Revelation 4:3). What is clear from this passage is that whatever the color, the whole city will glow with the radiance of God Himself.

“And it had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. 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).

The only other place in the Book of Revelation where the twelve tribes of Israel are mentioned is chapter seven, the sealing of the 144,000. We saw there that the tribes did not represent literal descendents of the patriarchs, but rather spiritual Israel, and the individual tribes represent the different characters and personality types (as described in Genesis 49) of those who are a part of spiritual Israel. The unusual listing of the tribes left out Dan and Ephraim, the two tribes that were leaders in idolatry, showing that the 144,000 who are called to give the final message to the world, will include all kinds of people, except for those who have worshiped other gods (See 7:4-8, The Tribes of Israel).

In this passage it is not clear whether the same listing would apply for entrance to the New Jerusalem. In the listing of the gates in Ezekiel 48:30-34 the original twelve patriarchs are named (with Joseph rather than his sons Ephraim and Manasseh).What is apparent is that all who are a part of the redeemed will have full access to the city, each with a designated gate for “his tribe.” There will be no second-class entrance based on race, caste or achievement. Actually, if there were a “servant’s entrance” it would be the most honorable since the “class system” of God’s kingdom is that “whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).

“And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates of it, and the wall of it. And the city lies foursquare, and the length is as great as the breadth. And he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand stadia. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. And the building of the wall of it was jasper, and the city was pure gold, like clear glass” (Revelation 21:14-18). The new capital of the universe will dwarf anything ever seen on earth. For example, Washington DC has an area of about 468 square miles. But New Jerusalem will have an area of either about 120,000 or 2,000,000 square miles, and it will be either 350 or 1,400 miles high![1] Obviously the means of travel will be much different than what we have now!

The fact that the twelve apostles have their names written on the foundations shows that the very existence of the heavenly kingdom has its basis in the gospel commission which Jesus gave the apostles before He left the earth, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This is not to say that the Kingdom of God is established by human effort. It has been established by the sacrifice of Jesus, and everything is built upon what He accomplished on the Cross—“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Paul clarified the relationship between the church, the apostles and Jesus: "You are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19,20).

God in His wisdom has left it to His disciples, as vessels and tools of the Holy Spirit, to bring people to Christ and this is the sense in which the apostles are foundational in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” The apostles where the first to take the gospel to the world, and their work laid a foundation for the labor and sacrifices of countless other faithful Christians. Peter acknowledged the importance of each believer's witness when he admonished us to be “looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12), showing that we can "hasten" the Second Coming by aggressively bringing the Gospel to the world. All who are looking forward to the heavenly kingdom, dissatisfied by this world of sin and sorrow, should identify with Paul who said, “We are God’s fellow workers…you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it” (1 Corinthians 3:9,10).

“And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite, the eighth, bereyl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; and the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every one of the gates was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass” (Revelation 21:19-21).

God is extravagant in His use of shades of beautiful color, so that the shimmering walls and gates will catch and accentuate the light that radiates from God on His throne. In the Old Testament sanctuary service the priest wore a breastplate upon which a similar arrangement of precious stones were set, each one engraved with the name of one of the tribes of Israel. Again, the emphasis is on the individuality and diversity of those who are a part of the kingdom. The heavenly kingdom is not characterized by bland uniformity, even though all are “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). Everything about heaven is designed to stir up interest, capture the imagination and satisfy the love of beauty.

Continue to next section: 21:22-25 THE LORD IS THE TEMPLE

[1] According to the Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, the Greek “Stadia” is about 606 feet, so 12,000 furlongs would be about 1,400 miles. It is not clear from the text if the 1400 miles refers to each side or to the whole wall (perimeter).