Gold at the End of the Rainbow
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)
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)
(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.
(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.