Revelation 21:16-21

Conversational Bible Study - Plumstead Conference 2002

Plumstead Conference

Further transcripts

Reading 2

"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."   (21:16-21)

I would like to comment upon the individual measurements. The assembly is not infinite; God is infinite and has His own intrinsic glory but the glory of the assembly here is conferred glory.

We have seen that the primary thought of the wall is separation from evil outside (Ezekiel 42), but there may be another thought, and that thought is ownership. In the book of Joshua, the walls of Jericho may suggest that what was inside belonged to the people but the country was really God's and those walls had to fall. The thought of ownership is also seen in Isaiah 49:16 "Lo, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me". God's people are the Lord's, He owns what is His and it is stressed in saying that "thy walls are continually before me". This seems to be the thought which is emphasised here. This city is God's, it bears His glory.

In Isaiah 60, speaking of the earthly Jerusalem, it says, "thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise" (v.18). The glory of the city will shine out through the walls as verse 18 of our chapter, 21, indicates. The building of the wall was of jasper, and the glory of the city, the glory of God Himself, will shine out through the walls into the world outside at that particular time.

If we do not see the difference between the heavenly city and the earthly city we shall get into difficulty. Here the matter of transparency is important, the glory of the city will be seen.

The measure of the wall is a comprehensible dimension, and another aspect of the wall seems to be to commend the existence of the city to the beholder. This hundred and forty four cubits (about 250 feet) is something we can grasp, it will be comprehensible. The gates would speak of divine grace, and once a beneficiary of God's favour then we are able to contemplate the immensity of that which is within. No architect has yet, I think, devised a city twelve thousand stadia high (although they have ambitions). It is really something immense, but not infinite. Grace allows us to contemplate something which is vast, and that is what God would constantly bring before us, the immensity of the blessing, the fulness of God's grace and the glory of His grace.

It is clear that the measurements of this city are symbolic because in the first place the length and breadth and height of this city, (1380 miles), as a cube is unimaginable, even if it consists only of those who form the assembly. It shows us the perfection of the revelation of God in the assembly. In the Old Testament we find a cube there also, and that is the holy of holies in the tabernacle and the temple. It is very interesting and heart-warming to see that there it was the innermost sanctuary after coming through the court and the holy place into the holiest of holies. That was only entered once a year, by the high priest. Here we see that the dwelling place of God has the same form, though the dimensions are much bigger. It is the complete, perfect administration of God in the assembly, displayed during the millennium. This cubic city of these enormous dimensions will be the place where God dwells.

Let us never forget we also are the house of God where God dwells and should represent God in this world today. People should see in the assembly something of that which is of God but how unbalanced this revelation is nowadays, how sadly the assembly has failed. But in the millennium there will only be full and complete perfection.

Should we notice how careful God is to preserve His own glory? God is light, and if there is light to be seen in the city God Himself will be the source. It is the glory of God that lightens it, the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. All the features that come to light here are reflected light. There will be no glory whatsoever apart from the source. We do well at all times to see that God is careful to preserve His own glory.

"And I saw no temple in it; for the Lord God Almighty is its temple, and the Lamb."   (21:22)

In verse 22 it is the Lord God Almighty, clearly what is revealed of God in the Old Testament and then the glory of the Lamb which is not only an Old Testament truth but found in the New Testament also. To repeat, God is the only source of the light.

Could we focus for a moment upon the matter of the temple. There are five or six temples, Solomon's, Zerubbabel's when they came back from Babylon, Herod's, and there is a temple at the present time (our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost - 1 Cor.6:19; and the assembly is the habitation of God through the Spirit - Eph.2:22). There is also the temple built in unbelief after the rapture. Sadly we can see failure in every one of these, and we have to hold our heads in shame as to how poorly we have set forth the light of God in our own day. But beyond all this failure we come now a temple where God will be perfectly displayed. One might say that then there is no temple in the city because it is all temple. God is made known perfectly. What an encouragement in the midst of all the breakdown and sorrow of which we are so conscious today.

What is the connection of this city with the Father's house that we have in John's Gospel?

The city itself is the assembly, it is made up of believers. On the other hand there is a within and a without, there are gates to enter and a wall to protect from outside evil, so the last blessing in the book of Revelation, the last of the seven blessings is "Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have right to the tree of life, and that they should go in by the gates into the city" (22:14). The Father's house is the dwelling place of the heavenly city. God has prepared His own dwelling for the resting place. That is beyond display, but the assembly, as the heavenly city, will be a testimony throughout the millennium.

"I saw no temple in it" Why? "for the Lord God Almighty is its temple, and the Lamb". The significance of both those names has already been explained, but would it be right to say that the Lamb is particularly mentioned because, presumably, there would be no city if it were not for the Lamb?

Certainly. In these two titles we have God fully revealed but we have constantly to remember we can only draw near to God on the ground of sacrifice. We used to be taught by the older brethren, that the leading thought in connection with the tabernacle was approach, the leading thought in connection with the temple was display. The Father's house is something for the Father's heart, and as such it not a question of display but affection. This is the place where we can be before Him in the precious awareness of our new relationship with the sin question fully and completely dealt with, perfectly at ease in His presence and able to rejoice in all the glories that shine from His well beloved Son.

Why is God called the Almighty here? In the millennium it is a question of the ways of God with the first creation. Due to the entrance of sin it was marred but God reaches His objective in the millennium and the name God Almighty refers to Him in His ways with the first creation. What is interesting in our passage is that God does this by revealing Himself in the assembly which is already part of the new creation. God, in the new creation, reaches His aim and objectives with the first creation. This is one of the key thoughts in our passage.

We have been reminded that God will not destroy the first creation before He has claimed in that very creation His rights and His power. The last verse of psalm 22, which speaks to us of the work of Christ on the cross, ends up with this "They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done it".

In the tabernacle and in the temple the revelation of God and the glory of God are seen typically, but when we come to this final expression it is no longer typical or partial, it is substantial and complete. We cannot consider anything more austere, more majestic than the Lord God Almighty, nor can we consider anything more tender, more touching, than the Lamb. The Lamb here, like the Lamb elsewhere in the book of Revelation, is not so much the sacrificial lamb as the little lamb, the diminutive lamb in all the tenderness that conveys. Perhaps the extremes of the display of the glory and love of God are encompassed in the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.

Could we spend a little time on "the temple". The temple implies a religious aspect, a throne implies power. There are seven successive dwelling places of God throughout the history of man in the first creation to the eternal state. The first one is the tabernacle in the wilderness, the second is Solomon's temple, the third one is Zerubbabel's temple, the fourth one Christ, "in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col.2:9), then the assembly, the habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph.2:22), then the millennial temple and finally the eternal state.

It was said that the measurements are only symbolical. However in chapter 22 verse 6 it says, "These words are faithful and true". If what God has written is the truth, why then do we take the measures as being only symbolical?

Simply because symbols can bring out truth. Reverting to the seven dwelling places of God the footnote of Mr.Darby's translation on Hebrews 9 and verse 1 makes it clear that the tabernacle was really the pattern of the holy, universal order. So right from the beginning God had in mind what is going on into eternity, the seventh and final dwelling place of God, and this truth is conveyed in symbol.

It should be clear, although all do not accept it, that the state of innocence was not a place where God could dwell with man. But yet, after the fall God's counsels of eternity make it possible for God to dwell with man, in man. This should emphasise to all the infinite value of Christ's work upon the cross.

How do you understand the temple of Ezekiel as the dwelling place of God due to the fact that at the same time the Lord God is dwelling here in the holy city?

The cloud left the temple at the beginning of Ezekiel, went out of the city to the Mount of Olives and went up into heaven, and does not return until the end of the book and in the same way as it came, but God is present in all places. He is in the heavenly temple, the assembly, the holy city. He is at the same time on earth because we see the cloud coming down from heaven and dwelling on the physical Ezekiel's temple in the millennial time. I see no problem, God can be in all places at once, He is omnipresent.

It is clear that certain negative things that are said about the city, "no need of the sun" - there is no natural light needed - "nor of the moon" - there is no reflected light needed; in chapter 22:5, "no need of a lamp (or 'candle')" - no artificial light, and "for the Lord God shall shine upon them", they have spiritual light. Have we not noticed before there is no symbolic light.

I was interested in your reference to the temple in Ezekiel. Is it not true that there is no high priest going in with incense there? That aspect of things is not applicable for the Jewish nation in the coming day. It is something that typically we enjoy today. The Lord has gone in with the incense, He has gone on high representatively for us in Hebrews 9:24 and in 10:19-22 we can also enter with Him.

I wonder whether the ark has any place in Ezekiel's temple? In the beginning of Jeremiah it says, "And it shall come to pass, when ye are multiplied in the land and become fruitful, in those days, saith Jehovah, they shall say no more, Ark of the covenant of Jehovah! neither shall it come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it; neither shall it be done any more." (3:16). It would seem to be replaced by Christ Himself as Man. When God dwelt in the midst of Israel He dwelt in the cloud in the holy of holies and the ark was the centre of that place. When the high priest went in on the day of atonement he would carry a cloud of incense and put the blood on the mercy seat, but now this appears to be replaced by Christ Himself. God will dwell on earth in millennial time represented by the prince, and the very last word of Ezekiel is "Jehovah shammah", "the Lord is here".

In the earthly city therefore there is a temple which has a central place, and in the heavenly city there is no temple. We understand easily that no night is a blessing, but why is it a blessing when it says "no temple"?

When God dwells in the temple (as opposed to God being the temple) it implies distance, and this is seen in Luke 1 where this distance becomes very clear. In verses 9 and 10 it says, "it fell to [Zacharias] by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter into the temple of the Lord to burn incense. And all the multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense." As long as God dwells in the temple the people are at a distance, whereas now we read that the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple and this means the immediate presence of God. It seems clear that this is already our place, based on Ephesians 1:4, where it says, "we should be holy and blameless before him in love".

The temple will be God's dwelling place among His earthly people, but here in the holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, is God and the Lamb's dwelling place as J.N.D.'s hymn says (hymn 79 especially verse 14):

"God and the Lamb shall there

The light and temple be."

We can also add the thought that in the New Testament Paul (Eph.2:21) and also Peter (1 Pet.2:5) describe the assembly, as a temple. It is not said here, but the thought is not given up even in the present ruin of the church. The city is the temple. That is one reason why there is no need of the temple because it is all temple, but it is also clear that the word temple here has an entirely different meaning from all the other passages in the New Testament. It is said here that God is its temple and the Lamb. How can this be explained? It can only be explained in this way that there is absolutely no need of any building to approach God, that there is no separation any more. The setting forth of the glory of God will be in the assembly, in the city. So for her there is no separation, no entering in any more because the city has God in the midst of her and therefore this extraordinary expression is used, that God is its temple. We are one with Him and need no other means of approach. We are His temple, and He is our temple.