God's End Game - Part 52

Series: God's End Game

March 08, 2020
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

God’s End Game - Part 52

Today we continue our look at the final chapters of John’s visions in the book of Revelation. These closing  verses describe the end of God’s End Game and the beginning of a new life in a newly redeemed heaven and earth for the followers of Christ.

What John describes here is both familiar and mind boggling at the same time. On the one hand, it’s what we know. Trees and dirt and rivers and sky. Streets and structures. But on the other, it’s what we’ve always dreamed of but thought impossible. A place free from suffering and pain. A place where goodbye does not exist because death has been vanquished and people spend eternity together. 

And beyond that, it’s a place where God takes up his residence, merging the heavenly realm with our earthly one. Truly, all things are made new!

And this future for those who thirst for it, for those who are conquerors in Christ, is sure and certain. The sovereign God, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, has decreed it. It is the heritage of his children.

David, the king and poet of Israel, wrote of how the knowledge of God’s presence and providence in his life was too wonderful for him, so high and lofty he could barely grasp it. That’s what we feel like looking forward to the new heaven and earth! And we’re not even done yet.

Now let’s pick back up where we left off last week, as an angel gives John more details about the holy city.

Revelation 21:9–27 (ESV) — 9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 

The wife of the Lamb is the holy city itself…

Revelation 21:2 (ESV) — 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 

There’s some debate as to whether this city is literal or symbolic. In fact, there’s debate over whether the entire book of Revelation is to be interpreted literally or symbolically.

The literalists have to admit portions of John’s visions are figurative (the beast rising out of the sea with ten horns and seven heads in chapter 13 for example). And the spiritualists — those who think it’s all allegory — must admit it’s not crazy to think a physically resurrected Jesus is returning to set up his kingdom in on a literal newly redeemed earth.

Revelation contains both symbolic and literal truth. Where it’s obviously symbolism, see it as such. Where it’s not, take it literally.

Back to the holy city. Why not take the spiritual approach?

Look back at Rev. 21.2 carefully.

Revelation 21:2 (ESV) — 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

John saw the holy city looking as if it were a bride prepared for her wedding. “As” and “like” signify a simile, and a simile is a metaphor, and a metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable (Apple Dictionary).”

It would be strange to describe symbolism with a metaphor, wouldn’t it? Let’s keep going…

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 

The city radiates with God’s glory. It has a holy brilliance to it. (The time I found out I needed glasses). It’s more real than our real.

12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Ancient cities had walls. If it didn’t have a wall it wasn’t a city but more a settlement. Walls were functional and practical in one sense, providing protection against enemies. They were statement makers in another. The bigger and wider and more ornate the wall, the more powerful and prosperous the city.

The Greek historian Herodotus praised the ancient city of Babylon whose walls “[surpass] in wonder any city in the known world" because they were 56 miles long, 80 feet thick, and 320 feet high.[1] Impressive even by today’s standards. 

New Jerusalem's walls will dwarf any city of any time many times over. Its gates are are named according to the twelve tribes of Israel and its twelve foundations according to the apostles. This shouldn’t be too strange to us, since buildings and such even today bear the name of a benefactor. But this was even more so a practice in ancient Rome. One scholar writes… 

Inscribing names on public structures mirrors Greco-Roman practice. Such inscriptions shaped a city’s identity and reflected its power structures. As Augustus refurbished Rome, he stipulated that the names of his sons were to be inscribed on the basilica and the name of his son-in-law on the theater (Augustus, Res 20–21). In Asia Minor, the inscription over the gate by the agora at Ephesus (4–2 BCE) read, “To the Emperor Caesar Augustus, son of the deified, high priest, consul twelve times, tribune twenty times,” and it named members of the imperial family and the benefactors who erected the gate (I.Eph 3006). The gate built at Laodicea in 84–85 CE was inscribed, “To Zeus most great, the savior, and to emperor Domitian Caesar Augustus Germanicus, high priest most great, exercising the authority of tribune for the fourth time, consul for the twelfth time, father of the fatherland” (I.Laod 24). Such inscriptions identify the city with the gods, rulers, and patrons of the empire.[2]

The original audience of John’s visions would have made the connection immediately. They had lived and suffered under the tyranny of emperors who inflated their status — and that of their family members — to the divine, inscribing their arrogance on a city’s structures. Everywhere Christians went they saw this hubris, and it must have stung not only because it reminded them of their suffering but attacked the very nature of God. New Jerusalem, though, reflects the glory of the one true God almighty and his son, the only savior. In that city you’ll see the names of Israel’s sons and Jesus’ apostles inscribed on its architecture. What a contrast. What a comfort to weary Christians who suffered so. 

Here’s another reason I can’t believe this description is just allegory or symbolism. Look at the details…

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. 

Convert the measurements in this text to ours and you get a city with walls 1400 miles wide on four sides and 1400 miles high. We might be tempted to think this is an exaggeration, but we’re talking about the new heaven and earth here, the merging of God’s realm with ours. Wouldn’t it we expect it to boggle the mind? I love what Randy Alcorn observes about this…

A metropolis of this size in the middle of the United States would stretch from Canada to Mexico and from the Appalachian Mountains to the California border. The New Jerusalem is all the square footage anyone could ask for…

We don’t need to worry that Heaven will be crowded. The ground level of the city will be nearly two million square miles. This is forty times bigger than England and fifteen thousand times bigger than London. It’s ten times as big as France or Germany and far larger than India. But remember, that’s just the ground level. 

Given the dimensions of a 1,400-mile cube, if the city consisted of different levels (we don’t know this), and if each story were a generous twelve feet high, the city could have over 600,000 stories. If they were on different levels, billions of people could occupy the New Jerusalem, with many square miles per person.[3]


This sheds light on something we’ve all read and maybe misunderstood, something Jesus said to his disciples…


John 14:1–4 (ESV) — 1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”


As we move on there are even more details of how glorious the holy city is…


18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.


We zoom in on the gold and the jewels. We even have a joke about how here gold is a most prized possession but in heaven it’s mere pavement. But we aren’t that impressed by pearls, other than the fact they’re big enough to make a city gate. But in ancient Rome, pearls were all the rage among the royalty and nobility. They were more valuable than gold. They “became the ultimate symbol of wealth, power, and prestige.”[4] Julius Caesar made a law forbidding women beneath a certain rank to wear them, because they were meant for “those of a designated position and age.”[5] There’s even a legend that Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, convinced the Roman leader Mark Antony her kingdom was wealthier and more powerful than his by dropping a priceless pearl in vinegar and drinking it.


If God’s city uses pearls for gates, he wins, hands down. The first century Christians would have been in total awe of this and gotten the message.


Finally, for today, let’s look the last verses of chapter 21…


22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.


This is striking considering how prominent the temple of God was in the old holy city. It was the place where his presence dwelled. It’s where he was worshipped and the sacrifices were made. It was the center and headquarters of Jewish life and faith. What made the old holy city holy was having God’s house there.


Not having a temple in New Jerusalem has to mean something. Remember the measurements of the city? The city’s wall were foursquare with their height the same as their width. That makes a cube. There’s only one other place a cube is mentioned in Scripture. The holy of holies in Exodus. That was the central part of God’s sanctuary, where the ark of the covenant was. And the ark was his footstool.

In the new heaven and earth, God is not confined to a room in a temple, the city itself is his temple, a temple in which his people dwell and go in and out as they will. Which takes us back to…

Revelation 21:3 (ESV) — 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 

Heaven and earth have surely come together. Which, in a way is a fulfillment of the Lord’s prayer: 

Matthew 6:9–10 (ESV) — 9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

His kingdom has come; his will is now done on earth as it is in heaven because they are one and the same. 

One of my favorite NT scholars writes…

“We are not surprised, by now, that there is ‘no temple’ in the new city … We have already realized that God’s own dwelling in the city, and the shape of the city as a giant cube, are telling us that there cannot be a ‘temple’ as a specific place within the city where God lives. The Temple in [present] Jerusalem… [is an] advance [signpost] to that great, almost unthinkable reality to which nevertheless so much of the New Testament points, that ‘the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (Habakkuk 2:14). That is the goal towards which so much of scripture is pointing, a goal forgotten by those who imagine that the whole aim is to leave earth behind and go to heaven instead. Heaven has come down to earth; why would we want it otherwise? We have the reality. We don’t need the signpost any more.”[6]

Conclusion: Let’s finish up this chapter…

23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

I don’t think this means there won’t be a sun or moon in the new heavens and earth. It says the city has no need of them because God’s presence radiates light. If the new heaven and earth have a sun and moon and stars, there will be night time, just not in the holy city.

24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will

never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.

Ancient cities closed their gates at night to keep out intruders and enemies. Because folks like that don’t exist in the new heaven and earth, and because the light of God and his son shine without interruption in the city, the gates never close. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will enter this city. Those who have called on the name of the Lord.

[2] Koester, C. R. (2014). Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. (J. J. Collins, Ed.) (Vol. 38A, p. 829). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Wright, T. (2011). Revelation for Everyone (pp. 197–198). London; Louisville, KY: SPCK; Westminster John Knox.

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