Revelation 21:15-21

Conversational Bible Study - Plumstead Conference 2002

Plumstead Conference

Further transcripts

Reading 1

"And he that spoke with me had a golden reed as a measure, that he might measure the city, and its gates, and its wall. And the city lies four-square, and its length is as much as the breadth. And he measured the city with the reed--twelve thousand stadia: the length and the breadth and height of it are equal. And he measured its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits, a man's measure, that is, the angel's. And the building of its wall was jasper; and the city pure gold, like pure glass: the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every precious stone: the first foundation, jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprasus; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates, twelve pearls; each one of the gates, respectively, was of one pearl; and the street of the city pure gold, as transparent glass."   (21:15-21)

We trust that by this time we all feel the relevance of Revelation in regard to the book of God. This precious section gives us the expected answer to the history of God's earthly people as well as His heavenly people. It is the satisfactory conclusion to the whole book. Often in conversation today as people take account of the world situation, they say, 'What will happen next?' and again, 'Where will it all end?' Well, the Christian can supply answers to this based upon the truth of the book of Revelation. A point that is sometimes overlooked is that this book is written to servants (1:1). As such it is meant to encourage service to the Lord in spite of difficulty. We are to be "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Cor.15:58).

It is recognised that this year there are many who have never been in the Plumstead readings since the beginning and so a brief summary of the book may not be out of place. In chapter 4 we have the throne of God and One who sits upon it, with the assurance therewith that God at all times has the situation well in hand. Chapter 5 deals with the book and we are reminded that God has plans for this earth, not only in the judgment of what is contrary to His name but also blessing centred in the Lord Jesus Christ. In chapter 6 we have the opening of the seals of the book and the judgments described as "the beginning of sorrows" (Matt.24:8, Mark 13:8). In chapter 7 there is reference to the twelve tribes of Israel, a remnant taken up for testimony after the church is taken home to glory. These witnesses of the Lord have remarkable success and chapter 7 tells us of the great blessing that results. In chapters 8 and 9 we come to the first set of judgments, the so-called 'trumpet judgments' and we must ask you to notice that these come from the throne. God would emphasise that His judgments are according to righteousness. In chapter 10 we have a picture of the Lord Jesus as the Angel King who puts His foot upon the sea and on the land, the One who has both the nation of Israel in mind and also the sea of the nations. In chapter 11 we come to the two witnesses and the events that lead to the introduction of the millennium.

Chapter 12 introduces us to the second section in Revelation where we come to the chief actors in the closing days. First there is the woman with the twelve stars. We often see twelve stars today in connection with the European Union but we can rest assured that the woman with the twelve stars here is Israel, far more important than the twelve nations of the European Union. Then we come to the arch-enemy, described in his fullest character twice, the serpent, the dragon, the devil and Satan. It is in his full description that he is waiting to devour the man child when he is born, but the man child is caught up into heaven. In chapter 13 we have the two chief actors on the earthly side, the political head, the Beast, and the religious head the Antichrist. In chapter 14 there are seven brief visions especially noticing the testifying remnant is seen in the time of Jacob's trouble. This is a remarkable picture of those who are sustained in the face of the fiercest persecution that any nation with ever suffer but God preserves a testimony in Israel in the midst of it. In chapters 15 and 16 we come to the second set of judgments in Revelation, the so-called 'bowl (or 'vial') judgments', which emanate from the sanctuary. The standard now is not God's righteousness but God's holiness. These judgments are much more severe and more extensive than the trumpet judgments. Chapters 17 and 18 are occupied with Babylon, first in its religious aspect and then in its commercial aspect. Here we have an expression twice referred to in Scripture, "the fury of God's wrath" (Rev.16:19, 19:15). We live in a day when the emphasis is on the love of God but let us never forget that there is such a thing as the wrath of the Lamb, and this expression, twice repeated, "the fury of His wrath". God will be angry in relation to that which is contrary to His nature.

In chapter 19 we enter a brighter side of Revelation, if we might so speak, in the judgment of Babylon. Chapter 18 verse 20 says, "God has judged your judgment upon her". We are expected to come to a judgment about that which is false in a religious sense. God will judge it and when fully dealt with, in chapter 19 we have the great hallelujah chorus. These are the only four occasions where hallelujah occurs in Revelation, the celebration of the consequence of the judgments. This leads, and the tempo increases now, to the marriage supper of the Lamb, the public appearance of our great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, the battle of Armageddon, the feast of the birds, and the Beast and the false prophet cast into the lake of fire. This is followed in the next chapter by Satan being bound in the bottomless pit and then the magnificent closing passages speaking of the world to come, and the final uprising when fire comes down from heaven upon those who surround the city and Satan himself is cast into the lake of fire with death and hades. This leads to the great white throne. This is where we were last year when we had to consider finally the portion of the wicked dead. There are two sessional judgments in the New Testament, one of the living (Matthew 25) and here of the wicked dead, and we were solemnised in the fact that this judgment will be a final judgment without court of appeal. This led to six readings, no less, on the eternal state; though Scripture says so little about it. 

This magnificent section upon which we shall now explore should lift up all our hearts in deepest thanksgiving and praise. This city is referred to as a holy city. The Lord Jesus is holy and in this picture we find the saints also presented as holy. Secondly it comes down from heaven. When the Lord Jesus first came down from heaven, He was the Son of Man which is in heaven (John 3:13). His every act spoke of the fact that He came from heaven, and our Christian witness today is a heavenly witness. The third point is that, although the Lord Jesus was and is God. He came from God and He went to God, and what is displayed in this section is the work of God in our souls. This city comes "from God". The fourth point is "having the glory of God". At the present time, beloved brethren, we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor.4:6), but this city will have the glory of God, and in verse 11 it shines. This is what our testimony is to be, a shining witness. The word only occurs once else, in Philippians 2:15, "That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world". God is presenting the assembly in a public way here, not what we are to Christ, but what we are for Christ, and if this is going to be our portion in a coming day what a powerful voice it is to us that these features should mark us now! In that day there will be a testimony to the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills of who this Person is, the centre and the glory of God, and His testimony will sound not only from the assembly, but also from Israel to the nations of the earth. The whole vast scene of glory will sound with His praise. Let us now see how this chapter is split up.

The millennium is presented to us in the middle of chapter 20. In fact it is the only Scripture which gives us the length of time of the earthly Kingdom of the Lord Jesus (a thousand years, 4 times v.2-5). Afterwards there is the great white throne which is the final judgment of the dead (v.11-15). Then all things created by the Creator are dissolved, it is the end of the day of the Lord and the introduction of the day of God. Afterwards is the eternal state, the new heaven and new earth chapter 21 verses 1 to 8. We should be very careful to understand that in verse 9 of chapter 21 there is a retrospect, a returning to time, whereas the eternal state is beyond time. The call of the apostle here is to come and look from the high mountain, the heavenly Jerusalem (v.10). There are two Jerusalems, the earthly and the heavenly. God's blessing to the earth will proceed from the heavenly Jerusalem down to earth to the earthly Jerusalem and she will be the centre of the world. The subject treated from chapter 21 verse 9 to chapter 22 verse 5 is the heavenly city, and then we have the end of the book a conclusion or epilogue. From verse 10 to verse 17 we have a general view of the city and the dimensions thereof, with a description of the walls, the gates and the foundations, verses 12 to 14, and overall dimensions in verses 15 to 17. We can then consider in more detail several beautiful features of that city, the jasper wall, the city in gold, the foundations with its precious stones, the gates of pearl and the street, no temple and no light, God is the light. Between verse 24 and the end of the chapter there is the relationship of the city with the outside, essentially with the nations. The heavenly city will be the centre of blessing, and the blessing will be distributed throughout the world to the nations. This relationship between the city, the heavenly Jerusalem, and the nations is quite different from what obtains in the eternal state. Then the habitation of God is with men. The inner life of the city, the internal blessings are presented in chapter 22, verses 1 to 5.

I cannot remember last year if any comments were made on the missing dimension in verse 16. There is no mention of depth, such as we have in Ephesians 3. The closing verses lead us to the eternal state, especially verses 18 and 21, here, it is the millennium where the measurements are short of what they are in the eternal state.

This is important. There is that which will be displayed in the world to come, but there is that which will never be displayed in the world to come. This is seen in verses 22 to 24 of John 17. Verse 22 says, "the glory which thou hast given me I have given them, that they may be one, as we are one", then the expression, "I in them and thou in me that they may be perfected into one and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me." This is the aspect of the glory of the Lord which will be seen by everybody. The glory given to Christ as man, given to the assembly and they will manifest that glory to the universe, but in verse 24 we come to something which is beyond display. There is in Christianity always that which is hidden which the world will never know. "Father, as to those whom thou hast given me, I desire that where I am they also may be with me, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me, for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." This is the glory of pre-eminence seen by the saints but not displayed to the world. The secret joys which are known in the Father's house will never be the subject of display. 

In Ephesians we read that the love of Christ is beyond our knowledge, precious truth, but here we have what is before men and can be measured. Why was the measurement necessary? This is not the first time we have measurement in Revelation. In chapter 11 John is asked to measure the temple in Jerusalem. There he was to measure what was on earth during the time of the tribulation, but the court was not to be measured because it was given to the nations. Here everything is being measured, not by John but by an angel. An angel is also a creature which is probably an explanation for verse 17 where it says that the measure is man's measure and an angel's measure. The thing which connects men with angels, although there are vast differences, is that they are both creatures and there the "measure" is obedience. This is a deep lesson for us if we are really to know the things which we possess. We could compare this measuring with what we are doing here in the conference, being occupied with what God has presented to us. Many believers have only a very vague idea about the future, but God wants us to have exact ideas based on His word which give us security and certainty. That is why I think God makes the angel measure the city. We as creatures have to measure it. I would appeal, especially to the younger ones, to study the word, "measure the city".

Here we have to get a heavenly view, a spiritual measure of these things, and not just a human assumption about God's unfoldings. God wants us to understand it. The measuring has to be done in accord with Scripture.

We could apply the analogy with what we have in psalm 48 verse 12-13a, "Walk about Zion, and go round about her; tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks". We need to do that in a spiritual way in connection with the truth that we have here, to enter into it in a practical way, to "walk about it".

We read in a certain place "That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed" (Luke 1:4). I believe this is the practical matter for us. There is a verse in 1 John 2 verse 3, "We know that we know him". That is an extraordinary expression, 'We know what we know' but this may involve a good deal of searching on our side as to what we do know. It is not something that comes automatically. What is revealed is to be the subject of search and only then shall we know that we know. The Scriptures are the only basis for real testimony. If we are going to suffer for it we had better know thoroughly what we are suffering for.

It is to be noted that, one, the city is four-square, and two, that it is very large "twelve thousand furlongs", and three, that it is measured with a golden reed. Could the first remind us of divine symmetry and the second of the immensity of divine operation and the third of the important fact that it is God who is doing the measuring. Sometimes, perhaps too often, we have a small idea of what God is doing, a very real danger for us in the present day. There is a great deal going on today that is of God, and what is of God will certainly come into display in God's day of display.

Three things are mentioned here, the city, the gates and the wall. A measure is given for the city and for the wall but not for the gates. Why is that? It is because each gate consists of one pearl, and this pearl is priceless and cannot be measured. That is what the assembly of the living God is to the heart of God. How precious this thought that we are of priceless worth to the heart of the Lord Jesus.

The wall that surrounds the city is very small, a hundred and forty four cubits, which I suppose is something over two hundred feet, a wall around a city that is three miles high. I wonder if some brother would make some comment on this, and, indeed, what is the purpose of the wall? We usually think of a wall as that which separates, keeps apart, or which protects. Does this city need protection or is it just to show it is separate? If it is the latter I notice that the gates are never closed, so it seems to me that persons can go in and come out.

Could I add to your question? I notice that the city is marked in stadia, which seems to be New Testament measurement, and the wall in cubits, which we are more familiar with in the Old Testament. Is there a significance in that?

As to the dimensions mentioned the point is made sometimes that it is not the height of the wall, but the thickness of the wall that is measured. That may be acceptable. As to the purpose of the wall we must not forget that this is a millennial scene, not the eternal state. There is still evil extant with an uprising at the end, so the wall is necessary from that point of view. But the other point which may be mentioned in connection with the open gates is that there is so much good inside that that which is bad cannot get in. If our hearts are happy in the salvation and communion which is ours in Christ, "setting your affections on things above" (Col.3:2), we will not be bothered too much by the things the devil is all the time throwing at us. The moral principle is clear, let us go on with what is positive and have such a walk that there will be no room for anything otherwise to get in.

Perhaps another measuring activity of the prophet Ezekiel will help us in the matter. In Ezekiel 42, when Ezekiel is asked to measure the earthly temple in the millennium, it is said in verse 20, "He measured it on the four sides; it had a wall round about, five hundred long, and five hundred broad, to make a separation between that which was holy and that which was common". When the Lord gave the law to Moses the priests were to instruct the people in the difference between the holy and the unholy, between the common and the things which belonged to the Lord. In the millennium God will have a separation between that which belongs to Him and that which is unholy. In our time we have to apply the same measure. God wants a clear separation between that which is holy and that which is unholy. There will be sin in the millennium, but not inside the celestial city which is why there is a wall. Nothing impure will enter into this city.

I cannot say anything about the difference between the stadia and cubit, but the numbers are instructive; both contain the number twelve, twelve thousand stadia and one hundred and forty four cubits. The number twelve is, as we know from many other scriptures, the number of divine administration in the world, a perfect administration and mentioned many times here. The twelve apostles are mentioned here in connection with the twelve gates and the twelve foundations of the city. The city itself and its wall is characterised by this number, twelve and twelve times twelve, one hundred and forty four. Administration in the hands of man deteriorates whether in Israel or in the church but here we have something which will not deteriorate because it is God's heavenly city with perfect administration.

Briefly it can be mentioned that the stadium is a Greek measurement, it was not a man's measurement, it was devised in some other way, whereas the cubit is the length of the forearm.

The stadium is one hundred fathoms, and a fathom the distance between the outstretched arms.

We can be sure that God has the measure from the outset, He does not reveal everything at once (Hebrews 1:1-2 reminds us of that), revelation is progressive. The promise to Abraham was two dimensional, length and breadth, as we read in Hebrews 11:10 (see also Zechariah 2:2), but when we are given the details of this city here it is more than Abraham knew at the time. It is three dimensional, and we are not surprised that when in Ephesians 3 we get an account of the counsel of God. It is beyond man's measure all together, it is four dimensional. But even in the three dimensional stage here, in the world to come, there is more glory for God, more variety, more intensity about the glory than what was revealed before. While we cannot understand, and perhaps may go too far even to suggest, the variety in the gems, the colour, the style, the position, there is sufficient here to show us that the more God reveals about Himself the greater the glory that rebounds to Him.