The Revelation: Chapter 21:12-21 (It had a great, high wall)

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I know you doubted me when I said the pace would pick up. But this is 10 verses in one post!

(Rev. 21:12-21 ESV)  12 It 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–  13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.  14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.  15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.  16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal.  17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement.  18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass.  19 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,  20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.  21 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, like transparent glass.

Now, this is exactly the sort of passage that make the Revelation seem so obscure. I mean, ten verses on the architecture of a symbolic vision? And “chrysoprase”? Really?

Much of this imagery is borrowed from Ezekiel’s vision of the apocalyptic Temple in Eze 40-48, showing the promises made when Solomon’s Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar will be fulfilled when Jesus returns. The Exile that began in Babylon doesn’t come to its final end until the Second Coming.

Babylon

Interestingly,

Some commentators have noticed that the portrayal in vv 16–17 has striking similarity to ancient descriptions of the city of Babylon (see also Herodotus 1.178–79). Babylon apparently even had a river flowing through it and a main street with a series of trees on either side. …

What Babylon claimed to possess, to fulfill people’s hopes, can be found only in the new Jerusalem. This is like the threefold divine title attributed to Zeus by pagan Greeks, which is applied to God in 1:4 because only the true God possesses these divine attributes. Such a direct contrast with the Babylonian system is likely because of the explicit link in 21:9–10 with the introduction to the vision of Babylon’s destruction in 17:1, 3. As seen above, the purpose of the link was to contrast various features of Babylon with the new Jerusalem … .

G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 1074–1075.

Women and Gentiles

Now, importantly for the contemporary doctrine of the role of women,

The Herodian temple had a court of the Gentiles, adjacent to the inner courts of women, of Israel, and of priests, respectively, while the Solomonic temple, the second temple before Herod, and the temple of Ezekiel 40–48 were divided by a wall into inner and outer courts (cf. Eph. 2:14; see further on 11:1–2). In contrast, there will be only one wall in the new Jerusalem, and it will surround the entire city, thus stressing the unity of the city’s inhabitants with one another and with God. This is a hint of the escalation inherent in consummate fulfillment of OT prophetic types and of direct verbal OT prophecy itself.

G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 1078.

The court of Gentiles and the court of women will be combined into a single court with the court formerly available only to Jewish males — with no dividing walls.

Now, the segregation of men and women in the Herodian Temple was not of biblical origin. Nothing in the Bible requires that men and women be separated in God’s presence, and there’s no indication of any such separation in Solomon’s Temple. Indeed, the separation of Jewish men and women in the Temple seems to have been a product of the failings of the rabbinic system that Jesus so often protested.

Now, it’s commonly taught by modern NT scholars that a major thread of NT teaching is “inaugurated eschatology.” That is, that which is to come when Jesus returns is already partly realized. We are to strive to be like what the Creation is groaning to give birth to, to borrow from Paul in Rom 8. We are to work toward the ideal found in the Revelation (and other end-times passages).

Therefore, just as the Revelation celebrates the unity of all nations and peoples in Christ fully realized at the Second Coming, we should strive for that very goal. Just so, the Revelation also celebrates the construction of a new Temple, the New Heavens and New Earth, in which the only wall is on the outside. There are to be no interior walls! Hence, there is no separation between Jew and Gentile or male and female. This is an ideal for which we should strive.

The precious stones

The list of twelve jewels adorning the foundation stones of the wall is based on the list in Exod. 28:17–20 and 39:8–14 of the twelve stones on the high priest’s “breastpiece of judgment,” which was a pouch containing the Urim and Thummim. Eight of the stones in Exodus are repeated here in Rev. 21:19–20, and the differently named stones in Revelation are semantic equivalents of the ones in Exodus. … The priest was to “carry the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment … when he enters the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually.” Therefore, these stones symbolized all Israel, so that the priest in all his cultic actions represented all Israel before the presence of God in the temple.

G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 1080.

Cool. I had no idea …

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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