Conversational Bible Study - Plumstead Conference 2002
"...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." (21:19-21)
It says in the second part of verse 21, "and the street of the city pure gold, as transparent glass". It is remarkable that there is only one street in this city. A street is the place where we move about, the path upon which we walk. We have spoken of transparency already. David went in and out before the people (1 Sam.18:13), he was utterly transparent, there were no hidden motives. Our walk should be transparent also in holiness, the gold, clearly the pathway of God's pleasure. Perhaps that is the force of the one street and its bearing for us today.
In Scripture we only find one way. It is the same for all Christians, there is only one truth for all Christians, but what have we done with it? In the world to come God will show that in His eyes there has always and will only ever be one street. Gold, God's glory; glass, transparency. We need encouragement to stick to the truth and not be deviated from it because there is only one pathway. We have in this passage, from verse 9 to verse 5 of chapter 22 two different pictures. There is the assembly in eternal completeness, for in a moment the Lord will come and take us home, we will be glorified and there will be nothing added afterwards, except that we will appear before the judgment seat of Christ. The earth of which this passage speaks, verse 9 to chapter 22 verse 5 is still the old creation, only in the purified conditions of the millennium, so we have two different views, mingled with each other. There is the eternal glorified state of the assembly, the city of God and the old creation in the millennium with an earthly Jerusalem, the capital city of the nations. This is important to understand this verse which has been a puzzle to Scripture researchers because they could not understand a glorified assembly seen in the heavenly Jerusalem, and the earth which has been purified but where sin will still be present.
The street and city are pure gold. The street certainly reminds us of the walk of believers, the very thing that we often are sad about today because it does not correspond with our position now. Here, the street is exactly what the city is. A time will come when there will be no difference between our walk and what we really are in the Lord.
In the original language the word 'street' comes from a word which means 'broad'. In other words, although there is only the one path indicated for the saints, let none of us imagine that we are the only ones upon the path. I only mention this lest we should lose the evangelical touch while appreciating 'church truth'.
Maybe that is why there are twelve gates but only one street? Does this not show us that whichever way you enter into this city we are all set on the same path?
I cannot remember what was said last year as to the precious stones. I think some work has been done on it, could we get the benefit of it.
For the benefit of those who were not with us last year, I have drawn up two sheets. To summarise the very interesting subject of the precious stones, we said last year that physically they consist of materials found in abundance in nature and which have value. In the world the value of precious stones is based on their capacity perfectly to reflect light, and, when cut, exhibit the sumptuous colours of the entire spectrum of the rainbow. Spiritually the precious stones show the entire spectrum of God's nature, and God is light as well as love. On the breastplate of Aaron were the twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel, on his shoulders and upon his heart. On the twelve stones the names of the tribes of the children of Israel were engraved. They were distributed in four successive rows of three stones each. Hebrew is read from right to left, so you start on the upper right corner and the first three stones speak of Christ's glory as the Messiah exemplified in Matthew's Gospel, the second row Christ as the Servant in Mark, the third row Christ as the Son of Man in Luke, and the last row, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, the glories of the Son of God as in John. The ornaments of the king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 consist of nine stones out of the twelve mentioned in Aaron's breastplate, the three missing stones are the third level, in other words those which relate to the glory of the Lord Jesus as Son of Man. The reason, I think, is this, the nine other stones exhibit the glories of Christ as Son of God, but there is one more glory that the Lord Jesus acquired through the work of redemption, which brings in the second creation, the new creation, that is why they are missing in the garden of Eden as the ornament of the king of Tyre. Finally the foundation stones of the holy city are distributed on the twelve gates, three on each of the compass points, north, east, west, and south. If we want to enter into more detail it would take us to the end of the conference. We should humbly confess that we have to be extremely cautious as to the interpretation of the stones as we are not exactly sure even of the names of the stones. There are even one or two differences in the Authorised Version and J.N.Darby's translation.
So far as I understand it, precious stones are the result of two things, one is heat and the other is pressure, and it seems to show that if we are to exhibit in any way the glories of Christ we will have to pass through heat and pressure. What is both precious in God's sight and precious in testimony is the result of the various exercises through which we pass.
That produces the stone, but to put them in a presentable way to God they have to be cut and polished, so this is yet more exercise. This equates very nicely with the work of Bezaleel and Oholiab in regard to the tabernacle.
We can extend this to the vessels of precious metals. "Take away the dross from the silver, and there cometh forth a vessel for the refiner" (Prov.25:4). In Malachi the silver has to be heated to be pure and fit for the master's use (3:3).
Could a further thought be added? In the breastplate of Exodus 28 the four rows seem to correspond with the order of the camp in the wilderness. In the testimony in the wilderness the priestly service of the Lord is very important. What we find here in Revelation 21 is that there will be a perfect testimony rendered. For this we are completely dependent on the priestly service of the Lord to reflect something of this glory which is to be seen in these stones. How thankful we can be for this service of the Lord to help us, even now, to be a testimony for Him.
The value of the precious stones is the capacity of reflecting light to obtain something beautiful. We seem to have the same thought in 2 Corinthians 3. When we look upon Jesus, we contemplate His glory and without knowing it we will be transformed into the same glory by the Holy Spirit. It is when we look on the moral glories of the Lord that we will be able to reflect light for this world in true testimony.
The fact that many of these precious stones here are not found anywhere else in the Scripture makes it difficult to say what they are. This may be an indication that there are many glories that we are not even aware of that will be displayed. 1 Corinthians 13:9 reminds us, "we know in part".
Do we not also have in these stones the aspect of individuality preserved in eternity. We have seen that the assembly has the glory of God and here we see the glory of God in its varied aspects, each stone showing forth one particular aspect. It seems the individuality of believers is to be preserved so that we all together will show forth the various glories of the Lord Jesus.
I was at the Observatory recently and I saw pieces of glass and the more they had been cut and shaped the more beautiful the spectrum. It was a wonderful spectrum with not just the seven colours or shadings from ultraviolet right through to infrared, all the various between shades the more they were cut. That would be a lesson to us, the more we are subject to the Lord dealing with us the more there will be glory to His name.
Does this not also remind us that there is something for God in each dispensation. In Ephesians 1:10 we have the dispensation of the fulness of time, and God has had His witnesses in every dispensation. He has been known as Elohim, the Most High God, El-Shaddai, Jehovah and to us He is known as the Father, but to each revelation there has been a response and that response, individually, as well as collectively is what comes out in these verses. The Lord needs every one of us, and the pressures and sufferings of every one are taken account of. Pre-eminently God has to explain himself relative to the sufferings of the cross and of His suffering people. The Lord who entered fully into all that His people ever passed through will then shine in a radiance that was never seen before, all the light emanating from the blessed One who has died.
It seems to me that the wall in the twenty-first chapter has more of a Jewish character. In verse 12 the gates are the twelve tribes of the children of Israel and then in verse 14 the twelve apostles of the Lamb. I would judge that to be the apostles to the circumcision. Perhaps in Isaiah 54 we have a pointer to the meaning of the stones. Verse 11 says, "Thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, not comforted! Behold, I will set thy stones in antimony, and lay thy foundations with sapphires; and I will make thy battlements of rubies, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of precious stones. And all thy children shall be taught of Jehovah, and great shall be the peace of thy children." (vv.11-13). So the millennial Israel is going to be characterised by this kind of beauty so the wall seems to have more distinctly a Jewish character than a representation of what the church is.
The names of the twelve tribes at the twelve gates has led to the thought that the believers of Israel would actually be part of this new Jerusalem, but I do not think this is correct. At the twelve gates the twelve tribes of Israel show the direction of administration that God has in the assembly towards the world. The new Jerusalem will reflect light towards the earthly Jerusalem and then the blessing will flow from the earthly Jerusalem to all nations. I think this is the significance of the twelve names being at the twelve gates. Another thought about verse 21. As we have seen this street shows the perfect walk in the new Jerusalem, the pure gold speaking of divine righteousness and the term "transparent as glass", holiness or piety. Righteousness means a walk in harmony with God, holiness and piety speak of the absence of all evil. These two aspects have been compared with Ephesians 4:24 (in truthful righteousness and holiness (JND) where we are exhorted to walk in this way now. That there will be no change for us at the end of the millennium becomes very clear from our passage as has been pointed out already from chapter 22 verse 5 and it is good to see this thought in the light of Hebrews 12. In Hebrews 12:22 we find the heavenly Jerusalem (this expression is more comprehensive that the new Jerusalem), and in it the assembly of the firstborn and this assembly is identical with the new Jerusalem. It is confirmed to them that they receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken. He speaks in verse 26 about the shaking of the earth at the beginning of the millennium and this, at the beginning of the millennium, signifies another shaking, indicated in verse 27 which takes place at the end of the millennium where we find the transition from the millennium to the eternal state. There are still shakings in store for this earth, but once the Lord Jesus has come at the rapture we shall have moved to the heavenly Jerusalem where will be no trembling, no shaking, no change for us anymore. Chapter 22 verse 5 says, "and they shall reign to the ages of ages".
It is important to look at the passages in the New Testament where the heavenly Jerusalem is mentioned. We referred to Hebrews 12, there is also Galatians 4 where we find "Jerusalem above" which is not exactly the same as in Revelation 21. In Galatians 4 there are the two mountains, Zion and Sinai, and Jerusalem above indicates a new order of things characterised by grace in contrast to the order of things characterised by the law. In Hebrews 12 the heavenly Jerusalem indicates the place where we will be, while here in Revelation 21 what we will be, the new Jerusalem, the assembly. In Hebrews 12 it is not exactly the same as what we have before us here in Revelation 21, the heavenly Jerusalem, the place which is on the one hand the assembly of the firstborn, which is the church, and also the spirits of just men made perfect, the Old Testament saints. They will be found in the heavenly Jerusalem. In Revelation 21 this new Jerusalem, this new holy city is the assembly. The question arises, of course, about the Old Testament saints, where do we find them in our chapter? We have seen Old and New Testament saints together in chapter 4 in the twenty-four elders, then distinction is made between the bride and those who are at the marriage supper, but here in chapter 21 we find again the bride, the new Jerusalem, the church. What about the Old Testament saints? Can we see them in the last verse of the chapter, inhabitants of the city? Perhaps the brethren can comment upon this further.
While the brethren are thinking about this question, there was a dear brother known to many of us here, now with the Lord, who used to summarise the three Jerusalems thus, 'Galatians 4 - origin; Hebrews 12 - administration; Revelation 21 - display'. I was interested in your helpful description of the twelve gates in the heavenly city and the administration of the earthly city. Do you think there is a type of that in the feeding of the five thousand in that there were twelve baskets full gathered up?
Yes. The feeding of the five thousand is usually placed with the present church period but the twelve baskets are left over and seem perfectly to apply to divine administration which will be established in the world to come.
But what of the remnant, those who will be brought to know Christ during the tribulation period, what is going to happen to them, what will their place be? Could it be the gates are open in order that others, such as those we have been speaking about might enter.
I think this is in verse 14 of chapter 22 where it says what qualifications they must have who can enter by the gates into the city.
Regarding the Old Testament saints we must not forget that it is clearly said that the new Jerusalem is the bride, the church. If we see the Old Testament saints in the twenty-four elders then they will be in heaven. As to the gates, it appears that it is the kings of the earth who are bringing their glory to it. It is contact point with the earth, so I have difficulty in seeing these gates as the connect point with Old Testament saints. In Zechariah 14 we see the various nations worshipping in the earthly Jerusalem and here we see that they may also bring something to the heavenly Jerusalem annually at the feast of tabernacles.
As to those who enter the city there are two different views held by brethren. There are some of our teachers who say that those who enter the city are the same as those who are the city. The city which shows the corporate view, and those who enter in verse 14 are the individuals who compose the city. But there is another view held by other brothers, well known, who say that during the millennium there will be three different groups of saints ruling with Christ. There will be the assembly, there will be the Old Testament saints who will not be on earth during the millennium, and the third group in chapter 20, those who have died during the tribulation who will be raised when the Lord comes, and of whom it is said they will live and reign with Christ during the thousand years; so that there are the three groups. It is not said, 'those who dwell in the city', but it says, 'those who enter', which shows only a certain tie between the city and those who enter. It is very difficult to decide which view is the right one.
Should it not be said that there is only one company that will be indwelt of the Holy Spirit as we are today? The Old Testament saints, and those referred to in chapter 20:4, whatever maybe their privileges, they still do not have the distinctive place of the assembly. I think that must be carefully guarded. Remember how the Lord said, "Notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matt.11:11) positionally. Even John the Baptist, greatest man that he was in the Old Testament did not have the indwelling Spirit that you and I have. The distinctive place of the assembly must to be maintained.
But we have agreed that the twenty-four elders, the Old Testament saints and the church, being altogether in the heavenly scene of chapters 4 and 5 are worshipping the Lord Jesus on the throne. It seems to me that the Old Testament saints are mentioned indirectly in chapter 19 at the marriage supper of the Lamb as the guests at the marriage supper, as the friends of the Bridegroom, but nothing more is said in the Scriptures strictly speaking as to any place of the Old Testament saints in relation to the heavenly Jerusalem in chapters 21 and 22. There are definitely those who will be resurrected as the fourth, last stage of the first resurrection after the judgment of the world and before the introduction of the millennium kingdom of Christ, those will be with Christ judging the world, but to my knowledge they are not associated with the church as such. In 1 Corinthians 6 it is we who judge the angels and judge the world as the assembly linked with Christ, "the Judge of all the earth" (Gen.18:25).