Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 21:9–14

Revelation 21:9–14
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven final plagues came and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb!” 10 So he took me away in the Spirit to a huge, majestic mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. 11 The city possesses the glory of God; its brilliance is like a precious jewel, like a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 12 It has a massive, high wall with twelve gates, with twelve angels at the gates, and the names of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel are written on the gates. 13 There are three gates on the east side, three gates on the north side, three gates on the south side and three gates on the west side. 14 The wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
(NET Bible)

New Jerusalem as the Holy of Holies: Introduction

I challenge you to examine what the world considers glorious. Just walk through a large bookstore and glance at the covers of a hundred magazines. If that is the pinnacle of human achievement, then I say we must search for true glory somewhere else. What do you think?

Grant Osborne[1] points out the significant fact that Revelation 21:9–22:5 can be divided into three sections: the first describes the prostitute of Babylon (17:1–19:5); the second describes the end of history and final judgment (19:6–21:8); the third describes the wife of the Lamb (21:9–22:5).

Verses 17:1-3 strongly contrast with 21:9–10. The personal choice between the prostitute of Babylon and the wife of the Lamb is a real-time conflict of allegiance for the seven churches in John’s day and it extends to us today.

To continue the comparison, John describes the adornment of the prostitute (17:4; 18:16–17a) and contrasts it with the beauty of the bride (21:11). The adornment of the prostitute was stripped away in a single hour but the beauty of the bride will endure for eternity. The beauty of the New Jerusalem flows from the “glory of God” (21:11), where glory should probably be translated as radiance or splendor.[2] The beauty of the holy city is the beauty of God, and that has no limit!

The presence of a massive city wall is slightly surprising since all enemies have been vanquished. But if the wall does not represent safety, it does again delineate the basic difference between outside and inside. Consider that 22:15 says, “Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood!” Angels stand at each gate (21:12) — reminding us of the angels who guarded the way into Eden (Gen. 3:24) — and the gates and foundation bear the names of the twelve tribes and twelve apostles to remind us that both believing Israel and the church belong within.

I expect that this more nuanced view of the new heaven and new earth will sound odd to you. Craig Keener[3] explains that “Western Christendom has inherited an allegorical view of heaven” [think of clouds with winged angels playing harps] from the philosophical views of some early interpreters. Instead, we should consider what the Bible says the scene will actually be, both inside and outside:

“For just as the new heavens and the new earth I am about to make will remain standing before me,” says the Lord, “so your descendants and your name will remain. From one month to the next and from one Sabbath to the next, all people will come to worship me,” says the Lord. “They will go out and observe the corpses of those who rebelled against me, for the maggots that eat them will not die, and the fire that consumes them will not die out. All people will find the sight abhorrent.”
(Isa. 66:22–24).

Live inside the New Jerusalem!

As you can tell, living inside the New Jerusalem is our aspiration. The one who makes it possible is the Lamb, a name for Jesus that occurs seven times from 21:9–22:3. It is the sacrificial death of Jesus on our behalf that makes our life in New Jerusalem possible. There is no other way!

The author of the book of Hebrews encourages us to think like the heroes of faith who lived before us: “They aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16). You have a treat in store — true glory!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 745.

[2] BDAG-3, doxa, radiance, splendor, q.v.

[3] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 502.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!