“Ezekiel’s Temple and the Outflow of Living Waters” by Philip Mauro (1922)


In the last post, “Making Sense of Ezekiel’s Temple Vision,” we saw Steve Gregg’s overview of Ezekiel 40-48 in which he pointed out that Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple was conditional on obedience, that the new temple was never built to specifications because of disobedience, and that Ezekiel also foresaw the new covenant realities of this present age. This post will present Chapter 12 from Philip Mauro’s 1922 book, “The Hope of Israel.” 

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The following was posted at Messianic Good News in October 2012. Philip Mauro’s entire book, “The Hope of Israel,” including a downloadable PDF, can be found here. In addition to authoring more than 10 books, Mauro (1859-1952) was a lawyer who practiced before the Supreme Court. 

Chapters 40 to 46 inclusive of the Book of Ezekiel contain the record of a vision given to that prophet, in which he was shown the pattern of a temple and its various appointments, the arrangements, gates, courts, and chambers, their dimensions and other details being stated with minuteness. The space given to the description of this temple would indicate that it is a matter of considerable importance in the eyes of God. So it will be well worth our while to seek an understanding of the vision, and to inquire into the purpose for which it is given – even more so because of much barren conjecture and diverging opinion in this regard, amongst those who seek to expound the Scriptures.

These visions present difficulties of interpretation, as is generally recognized. But whatever they may or may not mean, they certainly give no support for the doctrine of a political future for the earthly Israel. Insofar as this prophecy was to have its fulfillment in the realm of the natural, it was fulfilled after the return from Babylon. But, as with the pattern of the temple showed to Moses on Mt. Sinai, so likewise here it seems we must take the visions seen by Ezekiel on that ‘very high mountain’ (40:2) to be the patterns of things heavenly and spiritual.

Moreover, in chapter 43:9-11 it is distinctly stated that all these promises given through Ezekiel were conditional, and we further know that that people did not fulfill the conditions that were laid down any more than they fulfilled those of the old covenant. Hence these later promises (along with all the others) have been forfeited irreversibly, and they find their ‘yea’ and their ‘amen’ in Christ, being all ‘unto the glory of God by us’ – the true Israel (2 Cor. 1:20). That is to say, God will have glory through the fulfillment of those promises in and through His new covenant people.

IS IT THE PLAN OF A TEMPLE FOR THE MILLENNIUM?

One solution of the problem we are studying (to which many strongly adhere) is that Ezekiel’s vision relates to Millennial times, when the temple shown to Ezekiel will be erected on Mt. Moriah, when also the system of worship described in the concluding chapters of Ezekiel will be instituted and carried on. This view is characteristic of that peculiar system of interpreting the Scriptures which rids itself of all difficulties in the prophetic Word by simply and expediently postponing their fulfillment to the Millennial age. Thus the Millennium becomes the convenient and oft used dumping ground of all portions of Scripture that offer any difficulty, and the unhappy consequence is that many prophecies which were fulfilled before or at the first coming of Christ, or are currently being fulfilled in this age of the gospel, and many Scriptures, such as the Sermon on the Mount, which apply directly to the saints of this dispensation, are wrenched out of their proper place, and are relegated to a distant future, much to the loss of the people of God and to the integrity of the Scriptures as a whole.

The ‘postponement’ system doubtless owes the popularity it enjoys to the circumstance that its method is both safe and easy. It is safe because, when a fulfilment of prophecy is relegated to the Millennium, it cannot be conclusively refuted until the time comes. All date-setting schemes owe their measure of popularity to the same fact. It is easy because it relieves the Bible student of the trouble of searching for the contextual or Christological meaning and application of difficult passages.

But, coming to the special case in hand, which is illustrative of many others, we must now boldly assert and undertake to show, that there are insurmountable objections to the view that Ezekiel’s temple is for future Millennial times.

To begin with, if the Jews do indeed occupy the land of Canaan again as an earthly nation, and if they restore the ancient system of temple-worship, either according to the plan shown to and described by Ezekiel, or according to any other plan, we maintain that the Scripture plainly forbids it. For it was by God’s own hand that the ancient system of worship was abolished and obliterated, and the obliteration of it was for reasons so closely connected with the redeeming word of the Lord Jesus Christ, that to re-establish it would be to dishonour that work and its achievements.

Moreover, the sacrifices of animals was a strictly temporary institution, belonging to an economy that ‘made nothing perfect.’ I have shown in a previous chapter that the entire system – temple, altar, priesthood and all – was but a ‘shadow’ of that which was to come, a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience’, that God had ‘no pleasure’ in them; and that they were completely and forever abolished by the ‘One Sacrifice for sins’ offered by the Lord Jesus Christ ‘once for all’ (Heb. 7:18-19, 9:6-10, 10:1-9). For it was not by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman armies in AD 70, that the Jewish system of worship was overthrown, but by the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God on Calvary, and it follows that, so long as the merits and efficacy of that Sacrifice endure, there will be no room in God’s universe for any other. It is important for us to recognize and to hold fast to the truth that the ‘old covenant’ and everything pertaining to it – sanctuary, altar, priesthood, feasts, sabbaths, and especially animal sacrifices – have been completely and ‘forever’ done away with. Surely the words in which this truth is declared are plain, and the reason for it is clear. For the Spirit says expressly: ‘He takes away the first’ – the sacrifices of the law – ‘that He may establish the second’ – the true spiritual worship of the heavenly sanctuary, based upon the one Sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:8-12,18-22). And the words ‘takes away,’ and ‘establish,’ signify something eternally accomplished.

THE VISION

But let us turn to the prophecy of Ezekiel with the object of learning what the record itself tells us of the purpose for which the vision was given.

First we would point out that, in the sixth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity, that is to say, while Solomon’s temple was yet standing, Ezekiel had a wonderful vision in which he saw the glory of the Lord departing from the house (8:1, 10:18). The vision of the new temple was given 19 years later, for Ezekiel is careful to record that it was ‘the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten’ (40:1-2). To this I will return. At present I wish only to point out that the most conspicuous features of the temple shown in this vision are the various places for the slaughter of animals, and for offering the same upon the altar, sprinkling their blood, etc. Thus we find a description of the tables, eight in number, for slaying the burnt offerings and other sacrifices, and upon which ‘they laid the instruments wherewith they slew the burnt offering and the sacrifice’ (40:38-43). Therefore, in the clear light of the Letter to the Hebrews and of all Scripture pertaining to the Sacrifice of Christ, it is impossible to place this temple in any dispensation subsequent to Calvary.

But an attempt has been made to avoid this objection and to make possible the locating of Ezekiel’s temple in the Millennium, by saying that the sacrifice of animals in that era will be only for a ‘reminder’ or a ‘memorial’ of the former days. But this is a very weak effort of the imagination. For what grounds have we for supposing that God would require any memorial of those sacrifices which, even in the time when they were needed, He had no pleasure? And how preposterous is the idea that He would require the slaughter of innumerable creatures merely to revive the memory of those other defective sacrifices which could never take away sins! Surely they who advance this idea have forgotten the Scriptures which they all apply to the Millennium, and which says, ‘They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain’ (Isa. 11:9).

But the passage itself completely refutes this idea, for it plainly declares that the sacrifices specified there were not at all for a remembrance or a memorial, but were for the very different purposes of sin offerings, trespass offerings, peace offerings, etc. Also for cleansing the house, making reconciliation both for the princes of Israel and for the people, and the like. All five of the offerings of the levitical system are mentioned by name (40:39, 42:13, 43:27, 45:17, 46:20), and provision is made for sprinkling the blood of the sin offering upon the corners of the altar, upon the posts of the house and court in order to cleanse them (43:20, 45:18-19). In a word the sacrifices are the levitical sacrifices, and they are expressly declared to be for their original purposes. Hence it is impossible to locate this temple, as an actual structure (apart from the spiritual signification of it), in any era other than that of the Mosaic Law.

THE PURPOSE OF THE VISION

What then was the immediate purpose of this vision? I think this question has a simple answer in the light of the passage itself and that of other Scriptures.

Ezekiel prophesied during the captivity. That captivity was to be of seventy years duration, as predicted by Jeremiah. At its end the captives were to return and re-build the city and the temple. This new temple was to serve as the sanctuary of God until Christ should come. God’s plan had always been to give to His people the exact pattern of the sanctuary they were to build for His Name. To Moses He had shown the pattern of the tabernacle, giving him at the same time the strictest injunctions to make every detail in exact accordance with that pattern. Likewise to David, God had revealed the pattern of the temple which was to be built at Jerusalem, with all its institutions, vessels of service, etc. ‘All this,’ says David, ‘the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern’ (1 Chr. 28:11-19).

And once again, after the exile, a house was to be built for the Name of the Lord in Jerusalem. Therefore, having in mind His invariable method in such case, we should expect to find at this period a revelation from heaven of the pattern to be followed in the building of that house. And right here we do find the revelation from God of the completed pattern and institutions of a temple, with directions to the prophet to show the same to the house of Israel.

Furthermore we find that even as Moses was admonished to make all things according to the pattern shown him ‘in the mount,’ so Ezekiel was taken to ‘a very high mountain’ where this pattern was shown to him, and he was told to set his heart upon all that should be revealed to him, and to declare all he should see to the house of Israel (40:3-4; 44:5).

Again, as regards the ministers of the sanctuary, it is strictly commanded that the priests are to be Levites of the sons of Zadok (45:15), which proves that the whole system was for an era when the priesthood of Aaron was not as yet abolished.

Furthermore, special instructions are given in this vision regarding ‘the prince.’ Now it was only after the return from Babylon that Israel was subject to a ‘prince,’ as Zerubbabel in the days of Ezra, and the Hasmonaean princes at a later day.

Finally, this vision contains instructions for the re-allotment of the land, corresponding to the instructions given Moses and Joshua at the first occupation of the land. This provision embraces the whole twelve tribes of Israel. For it should be noted that in the land of their captivity Israel and Judah were mingled together; and from that time onward the distinction between the ten northern tribes and the other two no longer exists. Thus Ezekiel was sent to ‘the children of Israel,’ to ‘the house of Israel,’ and as in several passages to ‘all the house of Israel’ (11:15, 20:40, etc.). Likewise Daniel confessed on behalf of ‘all Israel’ and prayed for his ‘people Israel’ (9:11,20), and those who returned with Ezra were ‘all Israel’ (Ezra 2:70, 8:25; 9:1 etc.). And this continued to New Testament times, when Peter makes his proclamation at Pentecost to ‘all the house of Israel’ (Acts 2:36), Paul speaks to Herod Agrippa of ‘our twelve tribes’ (Acts 26:7), and James writes to ‘the twelve tribes scattered abroad’ (Jam. 1:1). This effectually disposes of all speculation regarding ‘the ten lost tribes,’ and particularly of the grand delusion of Anglo-Israelism.

WAS THE PATTERN SHOWN EZEKIEL FOLLOWED?

So far as I am aware there is no evidence now available as to the plan of the temple built in the days of Ezra. Herod the Great had so transformed it in the days of Christ, though without interrupting the regular services and sacrifices, as to destroy all trace of the original design. That question, however, which we cannot now answer, does not affect the question of the purpose for which the pattern was revealed to Ezekiel.

It should be noted that everything in connection with the return of the people of Israel out of Babylon was purely voluntary. Only those returned to Jerusalem ‘whose spirit God had raised to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem’ (Ezra 1:5). They were not taken out of Babylon as out of Egypt in a body and by strength of hand. But we know that they brought with them the holy vessels, and we know that they had, and could have followed, the pattern shown in the mount to Ezekiel. For God had commanded the prophet to show it to them, and He gave him also this charge: ‘Thou son of man, show the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern. And if they be ashamed of all they have done, show them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof and the comings in thereof and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof, and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them” (43:10,11).

The blessings promised to Israel through Ezekiel were like those promised through Moses, conditional upon their faithfulness and obedience; and, since they were not obedient, the blessings were forfeited. So we are left in uncertainty as to what, if anything, resulted from this revelation to Ezekiel. But as regards the purpose for which it was given, we think there is no uncertainty at all.

Of course this vision, like all visions and prophecies, has a spiritual fulfillment in Christ, and this is very apparent, we think, from chapter 47. Chapter 47 contains the vision of the life-giving waters, which the prophet saw issuing out from the temple, a shallow stream at first, but increasing to a mighty river – ‘waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over’ (v. 5).

As with respect to Zechariah’s prophecy concerning the ‘living waters’ (Zech 14:8), referred to in a former chapter, so with respect to this vision of Ezekiel, we confidently submit that its fulfillment is in the living waters of the gospel, which began, on the day of Pentecost, to flow out from the Temple at Jerusalem. Our Lord uses the expression ‘rivers of living water,’ in John 7:38; and the meaning of the expression is given in the next verse: ‘But this spoke He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive.’ This explanation controls the passage we are considering. This will be apparent from what follows.

WHERE DID THE SPIRIT DESCEND AT PENTECOST?

For the purpose of a better understanding of the foregoing prophetic vision of Ezekiel, and because, moreover, the events of the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, are of great importance, it is a matter of much interest to ascertain just where, in the city of Jerusalem, the disciples were assembled at the moment when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

Some may wonder that there should be any question as to this, seeing it seems to be generally agreed that the gathering place of the disciples was the ‘upper room’. Indeed it is often positively asserted, as if it were a recorded fact, that the upper room was the ‘birthplace of the Church.’ But the truth is that scripture does not support the idea that the disciples were in an upper room when the Holy Spirit came upon them, or that the upper room mentioned in Acts 1:13 was ever their assembling place during the ten days of their waiting in Jerusalem, in obedience to the Lord’s command, for “the Promise of the Father.”

All that is said concerning the ‘upper room’ is that the apostles, after witnessing the Lord’s ascension from Mount Olivet, returned to Jerusalem and went to an upper room, where Peter, James, John and the other of the eleven apostles were lodging (Acts 1:13). What appears from the record, and all that appears, is that those Galileans, during their stay in Jerusalem, had their lodgings in an ‘upper room.’ There is no suggestion at all that the sleeping quarters of those eleven men was also the meeting place of the one hundred and twenty disciples of Christ who were in Jerusalem at that time. Still less reason is there for supposing that the morning of the great Feast-day, which the Law compelled them to attend, would have found them gathered in such a place.

IN THE TEMPLE

There was, in fact, only one place in the city of Jerusalem where devout Jews, of whatever sect, would have congregated on that morning, and one place where the events recorded in Acts 2 could possibly have transpired. That place is the Temple. But it is not upon inference alone that we base our conclusion, for after a careful examination of the inspired records, we venture to say that they contain positive proof that it was in the Temple itself that the Holy Spirit came ‘suddenly’ upon the company of the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that from that Temple the proclamation of God’s Good News began to go forth to all the world. And I will try to show that it was the outflow of the gospel – ‘all the words of this life’ (Acts 5:20) – that was foreseen by the vision of ‘living waters’ issuing from the Temple.

Surely it is befitting that it should have been so. For it is in accordance with all that has been revealed to us of the dealings of God, and of the connection between the Old Covenant and the New, that the first manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s personal presence should have been in the Temple, that the spiritual House should have its beginnings on the site of the material House. Indeed the same reasons which required that the preaching of forgiveness in the Name of the risen Christ should begin ‘at Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:47), would seem also to require that it should begin at the Temple. I will look into this a little later, but first I want to establish whether the inspired record gives any definite indications as to the place where the wonderful events of Pentecost occurred.

“CONTINUALLY IN THE TEMPLE”

The first Scripture that bears on the matter is the concluding portion of Luke’s Gospel whereof the book of Acts is a continuation, written by the same hand.

Luke records the Lord’s commandment to His disciples to tarry in the city of Jerusalem until they should be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49). The brief record of this verse does not state whether or not the Lord designated any particular place in Jerusalem where they were to await the promised endowment; but the further record given in verses 52 and 53 of what they did in obedience to the Lord’s commands, supplies this information. For we read that “they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:52,53).

This passage definitely declares that the Temple was the place where they assembled for the purpose of waiting upon God in worship and prayer; and it declares furthermore that they were there continually. Hence we need nothing further to tell us just where they were assembled whenever we read of their being gathered during that period, “in one place.” We have the emphasis of the word “continually,” which leaves no room for the supposition that during the ten days following, they were assembled as a company in any place other than the Temple. This passage alone seems to make it clear that the Lord had told them to wait in the Temple for the promised endowment of the Spirit.

When, moreover, we bear in mind the fact (which appears both from the Scriptures and from other contemporary records) that the Temple, with its vast corridors or “porches,” was the regular gathering place of all the various parties and sects of Jews, however antagonistic the one to the other, it will be easy to realize that the Temple is just the place – both because of its hallowed associations, and also because of its many convenient meeting places – where the disciples would naturally congregate. Edersheim says that the vast Temple area was capable of containing a concourse of 210,000 people; and he mentions also that the colonnades in Solomon’s Porch formed many gathering places for the various sects, schools and congregations of the people. In commenting on John 7 this trustworthy authority says that the gathering places in Solomon’s Porch “had benches in them; and from the liberty of speaking and teaching in Israel, Jesus might here address the people in the very face of His enemies.” It was, moreover, and this is an important item of evidence, in Solomon’s Porch that the concourse of Jews gathered which Peter addressed in Acts 3 (see verse 11). Hence there can be little doubt that one of the assembling places to which Alfred Edersheim refers was the “house” where the disciples were “sitting” when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

When Luke takes up, in the book of Acts, the thread of the narrative he dropped at the end of his Gospel, he says (speaking of the apostles) that “These all continued (lit. were continuing) with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren” (Acts 1:14). We have here in substance a repetition of what is recorded in the last verse of Luke’s Gospel, namely that, during the ten days following the Lord’s ascension, His disciples were “continually” together waiting upon God (they “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication”). The record in Acts omits mention of the place where they so continued, but that information was not needed, seeing it had already been definitely stated in Luke 24:52,53. But the evangelist adds the interesting facts that the women, Mary the mother of the Lord, and His brethren, were with them. All this, be it remembered, was done by the Lord’s express instructions. They were of course praying for the promised Gift from on high (Luke 11:13).

THE DAY OF PENTECOST

Thus the day of Pentecost came; and its being the great Feast-day of the Jews on which the giving of the Law at Sinai is celebrated, provides an additional reason why they should be found assembled in the Temple. The services – the offering of the morning sacrifice and incense, with the accompanying prayers (in which they would undoubtedly have taken part) – began at sunrise. This service being concluded, they would naturally be “sitting” in their customary place; and then it was that “suddenly” out of heaven came that sound “as of a rushing wind.” The words “they were all with one accord in one place” (compare 1:14) indicate that they were in their customary gathering place in the Temple. Similar words found at the end of chapter 2 lend emphasis to this; for we find there the statement that, after about three thousand souls had been “added” to them, they still continued with one accord in the Temple (Verse 46). This shows that what they had been doing as a small company they “continued” to do, still “with one accord,” as an exceedingly large and growing company. It shows further that the place where they were gathered when the Holy Spirit came upon them must have been of such dimensions as to admit of three thousand more being “added” to them; and it need hardly be said that the Temple was the only building in Jerusalem open to the public, where this would have been possible.

By having before our eye the several statements of Scripture that bear upon the matter we are examining it will be seen, we think, that there is no room for doubt about it. These are the statements:

Luke 24:52-53: “And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple, praising and blessing God.”

Acts 1:14. “All these were continuing with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.”

Acts 2:1. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”

Acts 2:46. “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the Temple.”

These passages reiterate that the disciple continued, during all the period in question, in one place; and the first and last passages quoted state that the place was the Temple.

From the last passage it plainly appears that, after Pentecost, they still made it a practice to meet “daily in the Temple,” the wording being such as to show that this was not a new custom from that date, but was the “continuing” of what had been their custom since the Lord’s ascension into heaven.

THE SERVICE OF THE FEAST OF PENTECOST

Acts 2:1, in its literal meaning, casts more light on our subject. As rendered in the Authorized Version it reads “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come.” The word translated by the three English words “was fully come” (which rendering manifestly does not give the true sense, since a day cannot be more “fully come” after it has actually come), means literally “was being accomplished.” In Bagster’s interlinear translation the reading is: “And during the accomplishing of the day of Pentecost, they were all with one accord in the same place.”

What is seemingly implied is that they were, as we should expect, in the Temple, for the purpose of taking part in the appointed services of the great feast day. During an intermission in those ceremonies they would naturally be “sitting” together in their customary meeting-place within the Temple area. What seems to be impressed upon us by this verse is that, during the accomplishing of the various ceremonies of the day of Pentecost, the disciples were not dispersed and mingled with the great crowds of worshippers, but kept together, and were with one accord in one place. It can hardly be doubted, therefore, that at the moment the Spirit descended upon them they were all together somewhere within the large area of the Temple, presumably in Solomon’s Porch.

Concerning the verse we are now considering (Acts 2:1), Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, in a letter to the author, said: “Personally, I believe that the statement that the day of Pentecost ‘was being fulfilled’ means far more than that they were observing its ritual. I am convinced that the meaning of Luke here is that all that was signified by that Feast was finding its historic fulfilment.”

With the aid of this comment we can see a great wealth of meaning in these few words of Scripture. The coming of the Holy Spirit took place some little time before nine in the morning (see verse 15), just long enough for it to be “noised abroad” (2:6), and for an enormous crowd to congregate. On reading attentively the record of verses 1-14 it will be seen that the events there narrated all happened in one and the same locality. The disciples were in the same place when they began to speak in other languages, and the astonished multitude assembled and listened, than they were when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

Concerning the words of verse 6, “Now when this was noised abroad,” Dr. Morgan, in the letter already quoted, says that this is not to be taken as meaning that a rumour of the marvellous event was spread abroad; for the verb rendered ‘noised broad’ in the Authorised Version is never used in the sense of a rumour. “I believe the sound as of a mighty wind was heard by the entire city. That being so, your interpretation as to the place falls in with tremendous naturalness to me. The devout Jews would, at the hearing of some supernatural sound, rush to the Temple.” In this connection the force of the words of Acts 2:2 should be specially noted: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind (or Breath) and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”

It is important to note that in those days, and for a considerable period thereafter, the disciples were in “favour with all the people” (Acts 2:48); and hence they were permitted to enjoy, in common with all Jewish sects and parties, the privileges of assembling for the usual purposes, and as a distinct company or sect, in the Temple. It should also be specially noted that no pious Jews would be anywhere but in the Temple on that day (See Acts 20:16).

We conclude, therefore, that the material House of God served as the womb for the spiritual House, and that from it the Church was to come forth, and soon did come forth. For a little while the two were identified, as the true spiritual ‘Israel of God’ was, for awhile, identified with ‘Israel after the flesh’ – the spiritual seed of Abraham with his natural seed. And this is in keeping with the revealed ways of God.

THE SOURCE OF THE LIVING WATERS

It is evident that the matter into which we have been inquiring has a direct relation to certain prophecies, such as Ezekiel 47, referred to above, where the prophet describes his vision of the healing and life-giving waters issuing from out of the Temple. It was shown to the prophet, as we have already noted, that the water was to go down into the desert (which suggests barren Israel), and into the sea (which symbolizes the nations), whose waters should be healed; and the description continues –

“And it shall come to pass that everything that lives which moves, wherever the rivers shall come, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither; for they shall be healed. And everything shall live wherever the river comes” (Ezekiel 47:9).

It is easy to see in this passage the familiar scriptural figures of the Gospel, and its life-giving and healing ministry. So we note with interest that the Temple – the House of God – was to be the source of the stream of living waters.

Therefore, we cannot fail to see in this prophetic vision a spiritual foretelling of the issuing forth of the Gospel for all mankind from God’s appointed center, which broadly was Israel, and more definitely Jerusalem, and still more definitely the Temple. Other portions of Ezekiel’s prophecy have clearly a spiritual fulfilment in this dispensation of the Holy Spirit, as we have sought to show.

In this connection we would call attention also to the prophecy of Joel. Inasmuch as the Apostle Peter showed the coming and manifestations of the Holy Spirit at the fulfilment of the verses quoted from the second chapter of Joel, it is significant that there is the promise in Joel 3 that “all of the rivers of Judah will flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the House of the Lord” (3:18). We believe that those who are spiritual will be able to see in this verse and its context much that is applicable to this present dispensation, though it may be that the complete fulfilment of this passage, and also of that quoted by Peter from chapter 2, awaits the coming again of the Lord from heaven. [I disagree with this last statement. – Adam]

LIVING WATERS FLOWING FROM THE HOUSE OF GOD

For some time after Pentecost the church continued at Jerusalem, and seems to have been tolerated, in accordance with the advice of Gamaliel (Acts 5:33-40) until the time of the stoning of Stephen, after which period the gospel stream spread throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1), the church at Jerusalem, the spiritual house of God, being thus far its source. A little later we find another “church” of God at Antioch; for it is written that Barnabas sought Saul at Tarsus, and brought him unto Antioch, and that for “a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people” (Acts 11:25,26). Here again in the church in Antioch we find the Holy Spirit in full charge; and after a year of teaching inside the House, we see the living waters flowing out, and producing the results intended in the purposes of God. For we read at Acts 13:1-2, concerning “the church that was at Antioch,” that “as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, ‘Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work thereunto I have called them.’” And thus, from the House of God, and in the power of the Spirit of God, the stream of the Gospel flowed out in a new direction, and extended further than it had gone before.

Still later on the gospel was carried into Europe and it came to Thessalonica – not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance (1 Thess. 1:5). The result was “the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1). And this is declared to be an ‘example’ or pattern for other churches, for the express reason, as the apostle writes to them that, “From you sounded out the Word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place you faith to God-ward is spread abroad” (1:8).

A GREAT DIFFERENCE

Our study brings into view a great difference between the Temple – God’s dwelling place in the old order, and the Church – His dwelling place in the new. In the case of the Temple, sacrifices were brought to it, blood flowed in it, and incense (worship) ascended from it. But no healing waters flowed from it. Hence what Ezekiel saw, and what was revealed also to Joel and to Zechariah, living waters going out from Jerusalem (Joel 3:18; Zech. 14:8), was something quite new, and to which the former Temple and its ritual presented no analogy.

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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.