Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 21:22–27

Revelation 21:22–27
Now I saw no temple in the city, because the Lord God– the All-Powerful– and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God lights it up, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their grandeur into it. 25 Its gates will never be closed during the day (and there will be no night there). 26 They will bring the grandeur and the wealth of the nations into it, 27 but nothing ritually unclean will ever enter into it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or practices falsehood, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
(NET Bible)

Keep your eye on the ball!

Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). We have often understood this statement to refer to the gospel by having it mean light of salvation. But could Jesus have been telling us about the life we will live with him in eternity?

Grant Osborne[1] notes that most Jewish literature on the New Jerusalem puts the temple at its center, as in Ezekiel 40–48. But the flaw in that thinking is that the rationale for the temple was as a place for the people to encounter God. But in Revelation 21 we find that God “physically resides among his people (Rev. 21:3), and the entire city has been made into a Holy of Holies (21:6).”[2]

As John continues to contrast the holy city with the present age, he says the city needs no sun and moon due to the illumination provided by the radiance of God in Jesus, the Lamb (21:23).

Rev. 21:24–26 is very challenging for all commentators. Craig Keener explains: “The image of the conversion of the nations (21:24) is a problematic one if pressed on a literal level against other images in Revelation. One possibility is that God creates new peoples for his saints to rule, but because this is not stated, commentators have rarely proposed it.”[3] This rarely proposed idea is exactly the solution that I advocate to resolve this mystery.

The key problem is that the phrase “kings of the earth” (21:24) has uniformly served as a reference to those who will persecute the saints, gather with the beast, oppose the second coming of Christ, and then probably rise in rebellion when Satan leads the nations against the camp of the saints at the end of Christ’s earthly rule (see 16:14; 17:2; 17:18; 18:3; 18:9; 19:19; 20:8). So, it is sufficiently difficult to see these wicked kings coming to the New Jerusalem to worship — in the new heaven and new earth — that a few interpreters have said they were brought back from the lake of fire and converted! That idea is so contrary to the theology of both Revelation and the entire New Testament that it has gained no support.

The alternative is to take God more seriously: “For look, I am ready to create new heavens and a new earth! The former ones will not be remembered; no one will think about them anymore” (Isa. 65:17 ). I suggest that in this new creation there is no fall into sin and the result is the worship of God in Jerusalem by the leaders from nations around the newly created world.

This potential solution is far more complex than the usual fuzzy view of eternal life that most Christians hold. It may not express the actual course of events, but no viable alternative to the mystery of the “kings of the earth” in 21:24–26 has been proposed.[4]

No matter what God will show to be the solution to these questions, the nations will flock to the light of the Lamb, and those whose names are in the book of life (21:17) will see it all!

Jesus Christ is the focal point of the new world!

It is so difficult for us to imagine the new heaven and earth. As I write, the sun is shining and an electric light illumines my work area, but in the New Jerusalem the light from the Lamb’s presence will bathe every activity. Perhaps the biggest difference in the world-to-come is that it will focus far more attention and activity on Jesus than our fallen world does.

Jesus said to his enemies: “I am going away, and you will look for me but will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” (John 8:21). Rejoice that every Christian can come where Jesus is going!

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) 759.

[2] Osborne, Revelation, 759.

[3] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 505.

[4] John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966) 327, and Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 397, adopt certain parts of the literal view I have expressed, but they back away in different ways. G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 1098, retreats into symbolism, as usual. Osborne, Revelation, 762-763, discusses the issue but presents no credible resolution.

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