Gold At The End Of The Rainbow

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What God has in store for us is unbelievably beautiful!

Revelation(52) (Part of the Jesus Unveiled(51) series)
by Jason Stansbury(10) on March 17, 2019 (Sunday Morning(124))

Heaven(2), Promises(2)

Revelation 21:9-21

Gold at the End of the Rainbow

 

Introduction:

Like many of you, I drive to work every day. And because this commute has become so routine to me, I tend not to think too much about it. My mind switches to autopilot as I make my way to work.

But the other day, during my daily commute, I realized suddenly just how amazing this activity, which I so often take for granted, really is. I sit comfortably in the front of this machine, and by simply adjusting the angle of my foot, propel myself at incredible speeds from one point to the next. Imagine how far this technology has come.

Could you imagine someone from 100 years ago suddenly finding themselves here today, looking at one of our vehicles? Wouldn’t they be amazed? Imagine the mingling feelings of confusion and wonder as they watch cars zipping by on the nearby road. Things have changed so much in just a hundred years!

 

As incredible as human progress has been, even just in recent centuries, it all pales in comparison to the drastic difference between what we know now and the New Jerusalem, which John describes in stunning detail in Revelation 21:9-21.

 

BIG IDEA: What God has in store for us, His people, is unbelievably beautiful.

 

In this passage, John is given a vision of the New Jerusalem, and he describes to us the structure of this city as well as the materials of which it’s made.

Today, we’re going to talk about the vision, the structure, and the materials, and what each of these reveals to us about God and His people.

 

  • VISION (v. 9-10)

    • Angel (v. 9)

      • “One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you…”

      • We see this same exact phrase used in Rev. 17:1, so clearly there is a connection.

      • The importance here lies in the difference between the two:

        • The angel in 17:1 shows John the prostitute, Babylon

        • The angel here in 21:9 shows John “the bride, the wife of the Lamb,” the New Jerusalem

    • Bride (v.9)

      • Clearly meant to be understood through contrast with the “Great prostitute, Babylon”

      • According to Mounce, “One is of the earth, symbolizing the unbridled passion of evil, and the other descends from Heaven, the epitome of all that is pure and beautiful.”

      • Some have questioned why the New Jerusalem is described as both “bride” and “wife.” The question they often raise is where exactly in the process is she? Have they been married already or not?

        • Mounce’s answer to this question is that the exact timing doesn’t matter as much as the meaning of each word.

        • ​​ “As bride, the church is pure and lovely…”

        • “As wife, she enjoys the intimacy of the Lamb.”

      • Reminds us of Ephesians 5:25, in which husbands are instructed to care for their wives in the same way that Christ cares for the Church (His bride).

      • We will discuss more about the bride as we dig deeper into the rest of the passage.

    • Mountain (v.10)

      • “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high…”

      • Osborne notes that “mountains have always been important to Jewish religion, from Mount Sinai, where Moses was given the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19-20) to Mount Nebo, where he was shown the Promised Land (Deut. 34:1-4).”

      • There also seems to be a connection to Ezekiel 40:1-2, in which Ezekiel is given the vision of the new temple on a very high mountain.

      • According to Jewish tradition, the final eschatological city would be on a mountain (Mt. Zion). (Isaiah 2:2, 4:1-5) (Micah 4:1-2)

      • Some even believe the mountain in John’s vision here is Mt. Zion (though this is not explicitly stated nor definitively proven).

      • Based on these and other Biblical stories, mountains have a clear connection both to the revelation of hidden things and to God’s holy city. So it makes sense that God’s city is revealed to John while he is on a mountain.

  • STRUCTURE (v. 12-17)

    • Wall (v. 12)

      • “It had a great, high wall…”

      • The question which begs to be asked here is why would this holy city need walls? Surely not for defense, right? Evil has already been defeated, so against whom would these walls defend?

        • It could be that these walls are not necessarily for defense but rather to establish a sense of security, regardless of how necessary they might be.

        • Courson suggests that “the wall around the New Jerusalem speaks of safety and security.”

        • Akin agrees, calling it “a symbol of security and stability.”

      • Whether necessary for defense or not, these walls remind us of the security that we have in the Lord, our God.

    • Gates (v. 12)

      • “...with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates.”

      • Angels at the gates

        • These gates are commonly linked to the “watchmen on the walls” in Isaiah 62:6

        • Osborne notes that guards are unnecessary because evil is already gone, so he suggests that the angels could be linked to the angels of the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

          • This would represent God’s new relationship with His people.

          • If so, God might be showing that He fulfills His promises to His people.

          • These guards could also be, once again, portraying security in the Lord.

      • Names of 12 tribes

        • This draws a connection to the new temple in Ezekiel 48:30-35

          • In Ezekiel, each gate is named after a tribe.

          • Here we are simply told that the names of the tribes were on the gates.

        • Keener points out the common practice, even during John’s time, of inscribing the names of benefactors on the buildings which they funded.

          • Here in the New Jerusalem, however, these benefactors are not wealthy supporters, but rather “those whose lives provided foundations for God’s people.”

        • Courson explains the contribution of these “benefactors” in more depth: “As Gentiles, we were lost without the covenants, without any understanding of Yahweh before we were grafted into the olive tree of the faith (Romans 11:17). Thus, the names of the 12 tribes remind us that we are indebted to the people of Israel as we are to no other people.”

      • The position of the Gates (v.13)

        • “There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south, and three on the west.”

        • Osborne notes the similarity, again, to the temple in Ezekiel 48:30, which also has 12 gates, 3 on each side.

          • “These gates provide access to all ‘humankind,’ namely the ‘people’ (21:3) who have ‘overcome’ the world (21:7a) and so ‘inherited’ the city of God (21:7b)

          • 12 gates = plentiful access

          • 3 gates on each side = access from every direction (Revelation 7:9--”From every nation, tribe, people, and language…”)

        • Keener adds to our understanding of the 3 gates on each side: “Many Roman towns apparently had 3 gates providing entrance on one side, but New Jerusalem provides such access on all sides, implying that it welcomes people from all directions.”

    • Foundations (v.14)

      • “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

      • This description reminds us of Ephesians 2:20, which tells us that the Church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.”

        • Courson draws out the significance of this “foundation,” saying: “The names of the 12 apostles remind us that although we were originally granted access to an understanding of God through the gate of our Jewish heritage, our faith is founded on the message committed to the apostles: the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

      • It also seems worth noting that we have now seen in the New Jerusalem the names of both the tribes of Israel and the Apostles.

        • Mounce believes that “the juxtaposition of the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles shows the unity of ancient Israel and the New Testament church.”

        • “Thus,” adds Swindoll, “the city will be the dwelling place of the united people of God--Old and New Testament believers--whose salvation rests on the completed work of Jesus Christ.”

        • According to Wiersbe, by including both the tribes and Apostles, “John is simply assuring us that all of God’s believing people will be included in the city.”

      • In addition to this sense of inclusion, Wiersbe suggests that these foundations “speak of permanence.”

      • This place, in all of it’s splendor and glory, founded on the prophets and apostles, will never pass away. Neither will God’s love for His people.

    • Dimensions (v. 15-18)

      • “The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide.”

        • The term commonly used for this type of structure is “Foursquare,” meaning equal on all sides.

        • According to Wiersbe, a foursquare structure “indicates the perfection of God’s eternal city: nothing is out of order or balance.”

        • Block also suggests that this foursquare structure is meant “to reflect a lofty theological and spiritual ideal, according to which the residence of Yahweh must be perfectly proportioned.”

        • The Temple in Ezekiel was also laid out in foursquare (Ezekiel 42:15-20, 45:2)

          • While the Temple is a perfect square, the New Jerusalem is “as wide and high as it is long,” meaning it is a perfect cube.

          • “In other words,” says Osborne, “the perfection of this city is another degree greater than that of Ezekiel.”

      • Cube: “...as wide and high as it is long”

        • The cube layout, according to Akin, “recalls and reflects the most holy place, or Holy of Holies.” (1 Kings 6:20; 2 Chron. 3:8-9)

        • Osborne notes that “...since the Holy of Holies was the place where the Shekinah resided, this is especially appropriate for the celestial city.”

        • “In earthly Jerusalem,” says Easley, “the glory of God was limited to a single, tiny, cube-shaped room; in New Jerusalem the glory of God fils a vast cube-shaped city.”

        • “A city foursquare” (and even more so a city cubed) “would be the place where God has taken up residence with His people.” (Mounce)

        • Mounce helps us understand the underlying significance of this magnificent cube of a city, in which dwells the Lord, in all His glory:

          • “As the holy city descends from Heaven, it glitters with a shimmering radiance that manifests the presence and glory of God. it is the eternal fulfillment of God’s promise to captive Israel that in the restoration the flory of the Lord will arise upon them and He will be their everlasting light (Isaiah 60)

      • “...12,000 stadia in length…”

        • The number itself

          • This would be considered a “perfect number” because it is 12, a number which is perfect and complete, multiplied by 10, another perfect and complete number, cubed (which again implies a sense of completeness and perfection).

          • Easley examines the number even more closely, adding that “a cube has 12 edges, and each edge is 12,000 stadia long, so the total length of the edges is 144,000, exactly the same as the followers of the Lamb in Rev. 14:1.”

          • This number, according to Osborne, “signifies not only perfection, but a city large enough to hold all fo the sints down through the ages, the saints from ‘every tribe, language, people, and nation.’”

        • The measurement

          • Osborne informs us that “...the 12,000 stadia here was about the length of the Roman Empire,” which is about 1,400 miles.

          • Rome is often understood as Babylon, and is of course the persistent enemy of the Jews, so this shows God’s power over that evil city (and by extension the evil of the world) by portraying His Holy City as the size of Rome cubed.

      • The wall (v. 17)

        • The wall is described as being either 144 cubits “thick” or “high,” depending on one’s translation.

          • Osborned believes that the correct translation is more likely “thick” because it is portrayed as a “great high wall” in verse 12.

          • Either way, however, the wall is terribly small for a city 1,400 miles high.

          • “Thus,” says Osborne, “it is a symbolic number, most likely to be connected with the 144,000 of 7:4 and 14:1,3 as signifying the whole people of God.”

          • Both Mounce and Keener agree that this number is symbolic for the same reasons.

        • Easley attempts to interpret even more meaning from this number: “Perhaps it is best to see this dimension as the number of the tribes of Israel multiplied by the number of the apostles, another representation of the people of God throughout time.”

    • So the structure of the New Jerusalem conveys perfection, protection, access to all of God’s people, and more than anything, His presence dwelling with His people.

 

Principle #1: Eternal life with God is the fulfillment of all of His promises to His people.

My Next Step #1: Consider how God has fulfilled (and is fulfilling) His promises in the world and in my life.

 

  • Materials (v. 11, 18-21)

    • Jasper (Diamond)

      • (v. 18): “The wall was made of jasper..”

      • Due to the limitations of language and his own understanding, John may not actually be talking about Jasper.

      • Mounce notes that “In antiquity, the designation ‘jasper’ was used for any opaque precious stone,” so the reference could be to any of a number of stones.

      • Both Mounce and Courson (and many other scholars) agree that the description, “clear as crystal,” would suggest that the stone John is attempting to reference is actually a diamond.

      • So what is the significance of this stone? Why a diamond?

        • Courson helps us to understand the metaphorical value of this stone: “A diamond would be a fitting description of the city wherein dwells the Church--not because as the bride of Christ we deserve diamonds, but because, like diamonds we are simply chunks of worthless coal made brilliant by heat and pressure.”

        • 1 Peter 4:12-13 elaborates on this truth.

        • Like a diamond shines only as it reflects the light around it, we as the Church shine only when we reflect the glory and presence of God around us.

    • Precious Stones (Foundations)

      • (v.19-20) “The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone…”

        • Each of the 12 precious stones decorating the foundations of the city is named.

        • These include: Jasper, Sapphire, Agate, Emerald, Onyx, Ruby, Chrysolite, Beryl, Topaz, Turquoise, Jacinth, and Amethyst.

        • Some have attempted to interpret the meaning of each stone, but I won’t. What I will consider, however, is the significance of this particular grouping of stones.

        • Osborne presents 3 theories, which we will consider.

      • Theories Regarding the Precious Stones:

        • Connection to the High Priest’s breastplate

          • 8 of the 12 stones listed are also among those worn on the breastplate of the High priest, as mentioned in Exodus 28 and 36.

          • The 4 stones which differ between the two lists can be explained by limitations of language (the same stone having different names, etc.) or knowledge at the time (maybe the true stone had not been discovered at the time).

          • Mounce believes that this similarity to the breastplate of the High Priest suggests that “the privileges reserved for the high priest alone under the old covenant are now freely given to the entire people of God.”

        • Possible connection to Zodiac

          • The list of stones here in John’s description of the New Jerusalem is the exact reverse order of the 12 jewels linked with the 12 signs of the Zodiac in ancient Egyptian and Arabic lists.

          • Osborne sees this as indicating John’s intentional rejection of any “pagan speculations about the ‘city of the gods’ behind the celestial city.”

        • Due to the difference with the signs of the zodiac and the breast plate of the high priest, we cannot be certain of either, and it is best to see this list as a general depiction of the glory of the people of God, of many different types, and yet reflecting God’s glory.

      • Though none of these theories is definitive, the connection to the High Priest has clear implications.

        • In Revelation 1:6, 5:10, and 20:6, God’s people are portrayed as priests of God.

        • So this is how God views us according to His covenant through Christ

        • This means that we, like the High Priest, have direct access to God at all times.

    • Pearls (Gates)

      • (v.21) “The 12 gates were 12 pearls, each gate made of a single pearl.”

      • In the ancient world, pearls held incredible worth and were considered the most luxurious of all jewels.

        • We see an indication of this in Matthew 13:45-46, in which Jesus tells of a man who sold everything he had to possess a single pearl.

      • Courson again attempts to draw out some significance regarding the use of this particular material:

        • “The pearl represents God’s people. How do I know? In Matthew 13, Jesus told the sotry of a man who sold everytying to purchase a pearl. That’s just what Jesus did. He gave everything He had--even His very life--to purchase us. This makes us the pearl--a fitting description, since a pearl is nothing more than an irritating grain of sand or a tiny parasite coated by the lustrous nacre of an oyster. ​​ We’re irritating indeed, parasitic beyond question. But God robes us and covers us and thereby makes us trophies in order that all of creation throughout eternity might marvel at His grace.”

    • Gold (City and Street)

      • (v. 9) “...city of pure gold…”

      • (v. 21) “The great street of the city was of gold…”

      • Here on earth, gold is extremely valuable, but in heaven, gold is used as casually as asphalt.

        • “Whatever you value most on earth,” says Courson, “will be as commonplace as asphalt in comparison to the glory of the New Jerusalem.”

      • This also reminds us of the priests of the Old Testament (1 Kings 6:30) who ministered in the Temple. (Mounce)

        • Like them, the servants of God in the New Jerusalem walk upon gold.

        • This is yet another reference to our priestly status in God’s city.

        • When God looks at His people, He sees priest in His Kingdom.

    • The presence of gems, pearls, gold together

      • Similarity to Isaiah 54:11-12

        • In this passage, which speaks of “gates of sparkling jewels” and “walls of precious stones,” Isaiah is describing the restoration and transformation of the “daughter of Zion” from abandonment and fear to fulfillment and joy.

        • The desolate city in this passage is transformed into a city decorated with gold and jewels, the bride of Yahweh.

        • The serves as an incredibly apt metaphor for the life of one who has been redeemed by Christ, and even more so as the redeemed Church.

      • Connection to the prostitue of Babylon

        • The prostitute of Babylon is described in Revelation 17:4 and 18:16 as wearing “gold, precious stones, and pearls,” the same elements we see composing the New Jerusalem.

        • The distinction, however, lies in the statement, found in Rev. 18:6, that “in one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin.”

        • Here we are reminded of the elements which distinguish the prostitute from the bride.

          • The prostitute (the world) tempts us with instant gratification, which ultimately won’t last nor satisfy.

          • What God offers through Christ, however, is the long-term, intmate relationship enjoyed exclusively by a wife.

          • This adds to our understanding of God’s faithfulness, as well as the security and intimacy He offers us.

 

Principle #2: When God looks at you, He sees something precious, valuable, beautiful, and capable of reflecting HIs glory.

 

My Next Step #2: Reflect upon how God sees me as an individual and us as the Church.