Revelation Chapter 21 (Part 2: Verses 5-27)


REVELATION 21 (Part 2: Verses 5-27)

Adam Maarschalk: February 3, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 21:1-27

Introduction: In the previous post, we covered the first four verses of Revelation 21, giving special attention to the imagery of a new heaven and a new earth (“for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”), and the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. Our conclusion is that John was being shown the final transition from the Old Covenant age to the New Covenant age (exclusively and in fullness) in 70 AD. In other words, the New Jerusalem came down from heaven at that time, and is a present reality now, just as the author of Hebrews also said (Heb. 8:13; 12:22-24). The events of 70 AD demonstrated decisively that the kingdom no longer belonged to the Jewish nation, but to the holy nation created at Pentecost (Matt. 21:43-44, I Peter 2:4-10; cf. Daniel 7:22, 27), made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers who enter God’s kingdom on an equal basis.

It is recommended that one read Part 1 of our study of Revelation 21 before proceeding here, in order to have a basis for what is to follow. We will now continue with our study, picking things up in verse 5. We will be relying much on Steve Gregg’s commentary on this chapter.

Verse 5: The One on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…” While the literalist position most often takes this statement to refer, along with the rest of the chapter, to a future physical new heavens and earth, this can also quite naturally be understood as a reference to the same truth which is articulated in II Corinthians 5:17. This verse reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” As believers submitted to Christ, every area of our lives should experience renewal. Even as this is true on a personal level for each believer, it’s also true in terms of the New Covenant. In the book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” Steve Gregg writes (p. 491):

The language of these verses also can apply to the passing away of the old covenantal order, which has been so completely replaced by the new order that God commands His people: “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I will do a new thing” (Isa. 43:18-19). No place remains for the old covenant, as the writer of Hebrews explains: “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13).

Verses 6-7: The text here reads, “And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be His God and he will be My son.’” Is this a present reality, or a future reality to be experienced in the eternal state? Steve Gregg reminds us (p. 491):

[T]he promise, I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts (v. 6), is clearly the same as that made twice by Jesus in John’s Gospel (cf. John 4:10, 14; 7:37f). Also, the phrase He who overcomes (v. 7) is characteristic of the phraseology in the promises made by Christ in the letters to the seven churches (cf. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).

The one who overcomes receives this promise: “and I will be His God and he will be my son.” A similar promise is given in II Corinthians 6:18, a passage speaking of the Church as the temple of the living God. There we read: “and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty.” This present position as God’s children is also spoken of in Romans 8:15-17. Kenneth Gentry, in his latest book “Navigating the Book of Revelation,” adds:

John is encouraging the beleaguered first century saints to hold on through their trials: Once Jerusalem falls, they will complete their entry into the final redemptive-historical order which has been gradually dawning since the time of Christ (John 4:21-23). As the writer of Hebrews puts it: Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28 NIV; cf. Heb. 8:13). Or as Paul expresses it in the mid-50s: “And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:11-12) – a reality worthy of enduring persecution.

Jesus promises His disciples that some of them will live to see the kingdom’s final establishment in power: “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1). Thus in Revelation 21 John paints nascent, post-A.D. 70 Christianity – now finally separated from Judaism – in glowing terms, as a firmly established, glorious reality (p. 167).

Verse 8: This verse reads, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake of fire that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Steve Gregg notes that many scholars have equated “the cowardly” with apostates “who defect from the gospel rather than enduring hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ,” in contrast to those “who overcome” (v. 7).

We also saw a reference to the lake of fire and the second death in Revelation 20:14, with regard to the Great White Throne Judgment. This is where, according to that passage, death and Hades was to be thrown, along with anyone whose name was not found in the book of life (Rev. 20:15).[1]

Steve Gregg makes a very interesting observation at this point. Speaking of the preceding 8 verses in relation to the rest of the final two chapters, he observes (p. 492):

One way of understanding the structure of these final chapters is to see this whole segment (vv. 1-8) as an outline or summary of the remaining portion of the book. A remarkable correspondence exists between the progression of thought in these first verses and in the remaining chapters.

Compare, after the introductory statement in verse 1:

CONTENT

In Verses 1-8

In the Remainder

New Jerusalem Verse 2 21:9-21
God dwells among men Verse 3 21:22-27
Renewal of the world Verse 5a 22:1-5
“These words are true and faithful” Verse 5b 22:6-10
Work completed: “I am Alpha and Omega” Verse 6a 22:11-15
Final blessing: water of life to all who thirst Verses 6b – verse 7 22:16-17
Final curse upon the rebellious Verse 8 22:18-19

Verse 9: John is now taken to see “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” by one of the same seven angels who held the bowl judgments. Steve Gregg notes (p. 493) that one of these same angels—perhaps even the same one—had also taken John to see the great harlot in Revelation 17:1: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters.’” He says that this “provides a structural link, deliberately placing the harlot in juxtaposition with the bride.” We made the same observation in our study of chapter 17, comparing the language of these two texts as follows:

A. Revelation 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”

B. Revelation 17:3: “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.”

B. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

Earthly Jerusalem and the Old Covenant temple system are thus contrasted with heavenly Jerusalem and the New Covenant (cf. Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrews 12:18-28). On the different destinations to where John was taken in these two visions, Steve Gregg comments: “The bride-city is elevated upon a mountain, ‘beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth’ (Ps. 48:2), while the harlot city is situated in a barren wasteland.”

Verses 10-11: The descending of “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” was also shown to John in verse 2. Steve Gregg comments on the significance of her attire:

Here, the attire of the bride is seen to be her having the glory of God (v. 11). The Shekinah that once rested upon the temple in earthly Jerusalem has departed from that institution and come to alight upon the church, the new temple of the Holy Spirit and the new City of God. The inheritance and hope of the New Testament believer is the hope of obtaining the glory of God (Rom. 2:7; 5:2; 8:18; Col. 1:27; I Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 2:14; Heb. 2:10; I Pet. 5:1, 10). This speaks of the likeness of Christ Himself seen upon His people (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; 2 Pet. 1:19; I John 3:2).

The light radiating from the glorious bride-city is compared to the radiance of a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal (v. 11), which probably refers to a diamond. The believing remnant is likened to jewels in the Old Testament. In Malachi 3:16-17, it is said of those who fear the Lord and meditate on His name, “‘They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I make them My jewels.’” The context in Malachi [3:16-4:6] suggests that the reference is to the Jewish believers in Christ, who escaped the desolation of the capital city in A.D. 70. In this place also some find grounds for seeing the bride as the surviving church at the time of the destruction of the Jewish polity.

Verses 12-13: This text reads, “It [the New Jerusalem] had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.” Steve Gregg comments (p. 494),

The city is described as surrounded by a great and high wall (v. 12). This is applicable to the church as a spiritual city even today. In speaking of the spiritual Jerusalem, God predicted “and you shall call your walls Salvation” (Isa. 60:18), and “I…will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst” (Zech. 2:5). If Salvation is the wall—indeed, God Himself is the wall—of the city, then the city and its wall appear to be spiritual in nature. This would be a figurative means of expressing the reality of the believer’s security in the City of God.

The wall of the city has twelve gates (v. 12) which have written upon them the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. In Isaiah, the same passage that calls the city’s wall “Salvation” goes on to say, “And your gates [shall be called] Praise” (Isa. 60:18). The most important of the twelve tribes was Judah, whose name means “Praise.” In Isaiah, the city’s gates are named after this tribe; in Revelation, the gates bear the names of all twelve tribes. There may be no conflict here, since in Judah, that is, in Christ, who is of that tribe, all the “twelve tribes” of the spiritual Israel are included. The attachment  of the tribal names to the gates may suggest that through Israel God made a way for the world to enter the City of God, for “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Of course, this is only another way of saying that salvation is through Jesus Christ, who sprang from the Jewish race…

Another observation concerning the 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel is that this parallels Ezekiel’s vision, where he saw the same thing (Ezekiel 48:30-34). Gregg continues,

It is expedient that there should be three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west (v. 13), to speak of the universal access into the church, for Jesus predicted that “They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).

In the passage just quoted from Luke 13, we should note that just before Jesus said these words, He also said to the unbelieving Jews that they would be cast out of the kingdom of God and would experience weeping and gnashing of teeth while the patriarchs, prophets, and many Gentiles would find entrance. This mirrors what Jesus said in the Parable of the Tenants (Matt. 21:43-44; cf. Matt. 22:1-14).

Verse 14: This verse reads, “And the walls of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Steve Gregg’s commentary on this verse is very insightful (p. 494):

Further evidence for identifying the city with the church is seen in the city foundations that have upon them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (v. 14). This detail communicates pictorially what Paul said more directly, that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). This is the city for which Abraham looked: “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).

Duncan McKenzie likewise says, “A physical structure (a city) is being used here as a symbol to portray the totality of God’s people, just as God’s people are likened to a physical structure (a temple) in Ephesians 2:19-22—notice that both “structures” are built on the foundation of the apostles (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14).”

Verse 15: Here we read, “And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.” Steve Gregg again comments (pp. 494-495):

The measuring of the city, its gates, and its wall (v. 15) recalls Ezekiel 40:3, where an angelic messenger carried a measuring line and a reed to measure the gates and walls of “something like the structure of a city” (Ezekiel 40:2) and the temple in it. It seems likely that this vision corresponds to that of Ezekiel, although premillennialists generally apply Ezekiel’s to the Millennium and this one to the state of things after the Millennium.

We should note that a major difference between Ezekiel’s account and John’s account here is that (as we will see) there is no temple in John’s vision. Ezekiel, on the other hand, goes into great detail in describing the temple he sees in his vision [In Philip Mauro’s classic work in 1922, “The Hope of Israel,” he noted that the promises given through Ezekiel were conditional (e.g. Ezekiel 43:9-11), and that these visions had to do with the return from the Babylonian captivity some five centuries before Christ with some foreshadowing also of Christ and the coming Church age].

Verses 16-21: We are now given the physical description of the holy city. Futurists, and premillennialists in particular, see this as a literal description of a future, physical city to be enjoyed during the eternal state following Christ’s millennial reign. On the other hand, as we will see, there is Scriptural warrant for seeing this description as depicting with rich symbolism the glories of the New Covenant church in this present age. Here is the text at hand:

The city lies foursquare; its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia [about 1380 miles]. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

One key comparison to take note of is the fact that the holy city in John’s vision is cube-shaped, just as the holy of holies in Solomon’s temple was (I Kings 6:20). The holy of holies was overlaid with pure gold, while the holy city in John’s vision is entirely made of pure gold. What follows is Steve Gregg’s commentary on these verses, found on pages 495-496 of his book:

[VERSES 16-17] Since John sees no temple in the city (v. 22), we may imply that the whole city is the temple, or more specifically, the holy of holies. It is the place of the glory of God (cf. v. 11). This is the place of God’s residence (Eph. 2:20-21; I Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6; I Pet. 2:5), where God communes with men. Earlier [Rev. 11:1-2], John had measured the holy of holies (the naos) for its protection and preservation. In this vision, the naos is again measured, indicating its permanence, but it is now identified with the City of God, the church of Jesus Christ.

Part of the adorning of the bride is her jewelry… The walls, foundations, and gates are all made of great gemstones. This harks back to a prophecy of the Old Testament concerning the church: “O you afflicted one, tossed with the tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones” (Isa. 54:11-12). [Steve Gregg’s endnote: That the church is here pictured seems a necessary conclusion to be drawn from Paul’s quotation of the first verse of the chapter in Galatians 4:26-27 and his application of it to the Gentiles of the New Covenant church.]

[VERSE 18] (T)he city itself was of gold, so thoroughly purified as to become transparent. This is an image used to describe the refined character of the sanctified believer (Job 23:10; Zech. 13:9; Mal. 3:3; I Pet. 1:7; Rev. 3:18).

[VERSES 19-20] The twelve gems comprising the foundations call to mind the twelve gems worn upon the breast of the high priest, though again the individual stones are not identical (cf. Ex. 28:15-21). Since these same stones bear the names of the twelve apostles, it could be understood as a statement about the leadership of the people of God having transferred from the high priesthood of the temple to the apostles of the church.

[VERSE 21] There may be symbolic significance to the fact that the twelve gates were twelve pearls (v. 21). Unlike the previously named gems, pearls are created organically. A rough grain of sand irritating the tissues of the oyster causes the secretion of a substance that transforms the source of irritation into a pearl. The pearl thus may stand for affliction turned to benefit, even as silver and gold refined by fire are used in Scripture for the same concept. The gates are the means of entry into the city. If the pearl is understood in this light, we have a picture of one of Paul’s preaching themes: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

In Scripture a way of life is frequently called a path, a way, a highway, or a road (e.g. Prov. 4:18; Isa. 35:8). Therefore it is reasonable to understand the street of the city (v. 21) as representing the way of life of those who comprise the New Jerusalem. This street was pure gold, like transparent glass, which speaks of the godly character and behavior that comes from enduring the refining fires of tribulation.

Verses 22-27: John continues to describe what he observes concerning the heavenly Jerusalem:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Steve Gregg’s commentary again follows, including a most helpful chart comparing this portion of Revelation 21 with a corresponding portion of Isaiah 60 (pp. 496-497):

On the statement, I saw no temple in it, [J. Stuart] Russell writes: “Some of the features [of this vision] are evidently derived from the visionary city beheld by Ezekiel [chapters 40-48]; but there is this remarkable difference, that whereas the temple and its elaborate details occupy the principal part of the Old Testament vision, no temple at all is seen in the apocalyptic vision—perhaps for the reason that where all is most holy no one place has greater sanctity than another, or because where God’s presence is fully manifested, the whole place becomes one big temple.” Rather than going to a particular place to worship and appearing before God “in the sanctuary,” today one needs only be found “in God” or “in Christ” to worship acceptably, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (v. 22).

A helpful way of treating this segment is to look at it alongside an Old Testament passage with which it coincides. Compare the details point-by-point with Isaiah chapter 60:

Isaiah 60

Revelation 21

The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but the Lord will be to you…light (v. 19) The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it for the glory of God illuminated it (v. 23)
The Gentiles shall come to your light (v. 3) The nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light (v. 24)
Kings shall minister to you (v. 10); the glory of Lebanon shall come to you (v. 13) The kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it (v. 24)
Your gates shall be open continually…not shut day nor night (v. 11) Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there) (v. 25)
The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you (v. 5) They shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it (v. 26)
Also your people shall be all righteous (v. 21) There shall by no means enter it anything that defiles (v. 27)

In Isaiah 60, all of this is precipitated by the dawning of the glory of the Lord in a glorious new day (Isa. 60:1-3). This day was seen to dawn with the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus (cf. Luke 1:76-78; Matt. 4:13-16). Both passages then would appear to speak, albeit in symbolic terms, of the realities of the New Covenant age. The coming of the Gentiles into the church and the submission of kings to Christ has been in progress for nearly two thousand years now.

These facts alone (those highlighted in the paragraph above) would seem to be conclusive proof that these prophecies found here simply cannot be said to await a future dispensation or realm, but are indeed realities which have characterized the Church for nearly 2000 years.

This brings us to the end of the chapter, in terms of looking at it verse-by-verse. In this post, we have noted several parallels with the book of Ezekiel. This is actually a very common pattern with the book of Revelation, and numerous scholars have recognized that John borrows much from—or alludes much to—Ezekiel. Just for fun, here is a brief summary from Pastor Sam Frost of some of the parallels between Revelation 21 and various visions of Ezekiel:

Ezekiel is taken to a high mountain by angel and sees a city (40.1-3). John is taken to a high mountain by an angel and sees a city (21.10). The first thing Ezekiel sees is the wall (40.5) that surrounds the city. The first thing John sees is the wall surrounding the city (21.12). The first gate Ezekiel sees is the ‘east gate’ (40.6). The first gate for John is the ‘east gate’ (21.13). Ezekiel sees the East, North (40.20-23) and the South (40.24-27), in that order. John follows the same order: ‘From the East gates, three; and from the North gates, three; and the South gates, three’ (21.13). One omission: Ezekiel does not mention a West gate, but John does.

Each gate/alcove for John and Ezekiel are ‘three’ (21.13; cf. 40.10). Each are being measured (21.15-ff; cf. 40.10-ff). John then measures the city itself and its foundations. Here, Ezekiel goes into the city and sanctuary and begins measuring their dimensions.

Obviously, Ezekiel’s vision is much more detailed that John’s. Nonetheless, the pattern is there, plainly. Each gate (four in all, with three alcoves, giving a total of 12) are named after the tribes of Israel (Ez 48.31-ff). Same as John (21.12). The City has ‘living waters’ in Ezekiel 47.1-ff. So does John (22.1-ff). I can expand the list, but we would be here a little longer. By now, you ought to get the point.

Before we bring this post to a close, and by way of review, the following is a selected outline of Kenneth Gentry’s reasons[2] for seeing a first-century fulfillment of the vision of Revelation 21. My numbering of Gentry’s points is a bit different than his own numbering, as I have left out certain points for the sake of brevity:

[1] The flow of Rev’s drama expects the immediate appearance of the New Jerusalem bride (21:2). John’s theme involves Christ’s judging Israel (1:7), which leads to the destruction of old, historical Jerusalem (under the image of Babylon…). Once the old city is destroyed in AD 70 we should expect the New Jerusalem to take its place. Indeed, the NT declares the heavenly Jerusalem is already present in Christianity, as over against Judaism (Gal 4:26; Heb 12:22; cp. vv 18–21).

[2] Per the “unanimous agreement among scholars” (Mathewson, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 33; cf. Beale, Revelation, 1041), John’s immediate source material is surely Isa 65:17–20 (cf. LXX). Isaiah’s prophecy portrays the coming new covenant order established by Christ (cp. 2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10; 4:24). As Young (Isaiah 3:514) explains: “Heaven and earth are employed as figures to indicate a complete renovation or revolution in the existing course of affairs. With the advent of the Messiah the blessing to be revealed will in every sense be so great that it can be described as the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.”

[3] The coming down of the new Jerusalem (21:2) leads to the loud proclamation from God’s throne: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them.” This transpires in the first century, as a result of Christ’s work and his pouring out God’s Spirit. Paul writes in 2Co 6:16: “We are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

[4] …The promise of the water of life without cost reflects Isa 55:1 and the offer of salvation, which is related to the redemptive-historical order established by Christ in the first century. In his Gospel John speaks of the water of life flowing from Christ during his incarnation (4:10–14) and promises its fuller flow at his exaltation (7:38–39; cp. Ac 2).

[5] The twelve foundation stones of the city in 21:14 picture the historical church, which Paul presents as already “having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20).

[6] …John writes in 21:22: “And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple.” This suggests a first century reality, for with Christ’s coming and death the temple is rendered unnecessary (Mk 15:38//; Jn 4:21; Ac 17:24; Heb 8:13), for he is the temple (Jn 2:19–21; Eph 2:19–20) and is greater than the physical temple (Mt 12:6).

[7] That “the nations shall walk by its light” (21:24a) suggests that the nations as separate national entities still exist. Thus, historical conditions still prevail, rather than radically new, eternal conditions of perfect union and the fading of all distinctions.

[8] The city is not a purely consummational phenomenon, for the “unclean” and he “who practices abomination and lying” are not allowed in (21:27). This implies a pre-Judgment setting, where sinners still exist. In fact, the city contains the “tree of life,” which produces leaves “for the healing of the nations” (22:1–2). This also requires conditions subsisting prior to the eternal order. The healing of the nations obviously suggests conversion. John even declares the continued existence of “dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (22:15), though they are “outside” of the city. Presumably they are the targets of evangelism, for whom the healing leaves of the tree of life exist. (pp. 2-3)

Summary Statement: “So there you have it! John is picturing the glory of new covenant Christianity, which arises from the fallen ashes of collapsed Judaism (cp. Matt 8:11–12; Heb 8:13).”

An Invitation for Feedback

It seems that this is as good a place as any to pose a question I’ve been wishing to resolve for some time. I have no dogmatic position on this as of yet, and would love to have some thoughts/feedback. My question is this: What is the significance of Hebrews 9:8-10, if any, to Revelation 21? This passage in Hebrews reads as follows:

By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

Rightly or wrongly, I’m linking this passage to Revelation 21 since, as we noted when looking at verse 16, the cube-shaped holy city in John’s vision replaces the cube-shaped holy of holies of the Old Covenant temple (I Kings 6:20). Among my suppositions and considerations are these:

[1] Unless there is a tense error in the English Standard Version from which I quoted this text in Hebrews 9, the first century readers seem to have been told that the way into the holy places was not yet opened in their day, but that it would be opened once the first section no longer stood. This “first section” was spoken of in Heb. 9:6, and is a reference back to Numbers 28:3 where we see a prescription for the regular offering of two male lambs without blemish. Does Heb. 9:8 mean that the first section must no longer physically stand (a reality accomplished only in 70 AD), or simply that it must no longer stand as covenantally significant (a reality accomplished at the cross)?

[2] By the phrase “the present age,” I understand the author of Hebrews to mean the Old Covenant/Judaic age which ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple at the hands of the Romans (see this post here for “a discussion of two ages”). [By the way, if “the present age” is understood—as it popularly is—to mean this present church age, then is “the way into the holy places” still not opened, even in our day? Of course it is. Or is there indeed a tense error in this quoted passage? Curiously, in the ESV the past tense is used in verses 1-5, but the present tense is used in verses 6-10. I’m not so sure that it should be this way. This whole passage may even refer to the wilderness tabernacle, and thus have nothing to do with 70 AD except for the mention of “the present age.”]

[3] The phrase “the time of reformation” I would understand to refer to Christ’s work on the cross, for it was surely this work which brought an end to the imposing of “food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body…”

[4] I want to be careful not to assign any significance to the events of 70 AD which is instead properly assigned to the cross. Jesus and Him crucified must remain central.

So, does anyone have thoughts on this matter? Thanks in advance for any feedback.

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Our next post brings us to Revelation 22, which will be our final post in this series of chapter-by-chapter studies of the book of Revelation.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] As we saw in a previous post, Duncan McKenzie makes a good case that the great white throne judgment is a past event—for those who have already died. He sees it as an ongoing event ever since 70 AD, so that everyone who has died since then experiences a personal judgment following their physical death, rather than a one-time event in the future to be experienced by all humanity at once. Hebrews 9:27 (“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”) is said to reflect this sequence, as is Revelation 11:18. This was also the viewpoint of J. Stuart Russell (1816-1895), who wrote the landmark book “The Parousia.”

[2] Source: Kenneth Gentry, “New Creation as New Covenant” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 4.

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