(Rev. 21:24-27 ESV) 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day– and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 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.
We’ve gone far too long without a Youtube video. Two very different versions of the same song. (And how could we get through the Revelation without at least one Mahalia Jackson video?)
Tom Wright explains,
The mystery then unfolds a step further. For most of Revelation, ‘the nations’ and their kings have been hostile. They have shared in the idolatry and economic violence of Babylon; they have oppressed and opposed God, his purposes and his people. But the earlier hints of God’s wider redeeming purpose now come fully into play. The witness of the martyr-church in chapter 11 resulted in the nations, which had been raging against God, coming instead to give him glory (11:13).
Now here they come in procession, in the long fulfilment of scriptural prophecies such as Psalm 72:10–11 (note the prayer in 72:19, that God’s glory would fill the whole earth!), Isaiah 49:6–7, Zechariah 14:16–17, and above all Isaiah 60, the chapter which anticipates several elements in John’s vision. Here they come, bringing their glory into the city through the wide-open gates. The city itself is not a tableau, a static picture with people simply gazing at the glorious golden streets or indeed at God himself and the lamb. It is a bustling community, filled with activity, as the nations come to worship and do homage.
Tom Wright, Revelation for Everyone, For Everyone Bible Study Guides, (London; Louisville, KY: SPCK; Westminster John Knox, 2011), 198–199.
What does it mean? And if the saved are already in the city, who are these kings? Some take this as a hint of a second chance, with a second wave of people entering the New Jerusalem after the Second Coming, presumably leaving the Lake of Fire for the more comfy confines of the New Heavens and New Earth. (Even N. T. Wright speculates in this direction in Surprised by Hope.)
Beale will have none of that (and I agree).
The point of the figurative picture is that the Gentiles will never be separated from open, eternal access to God’s presence and that nothing evil can threaten such access. Isa. 60:11–12 enforces this thought (see above), since there the continually open doors mean that the submissive nations will be able to enter the city and will not perish. Likewise, in Rev. 22:2–3 the nations who will have unhindered access to God’s life-giving presence in the city will experience “healing” and will be protected from “any curse.”
Whereas in the old world the gates of Jerusalem, and of all ancient cities, must be closed at night to protect the city’s inhabitants from unexpected intruders, the new city faces no such danger. Though direct entrance by humans to the tree of life was blocked by angelic beings throughout history (Gen. 3:24), at the end of history angels stand guard to ensure that they remain open (cf. Rev. 21:12–13).
Comparably, 22:14 equates “entering the city by the gates” with unfettered access to “the tree of life,” and those entering are no longer limited to the “nations” but include all the redeemed, both Jews and Gentiles, in contrast to all the unredeemed, who remain forever “outside” (22:12 alludes to “each” of the redeemed; see further on 14:10–11; 20:10).
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), 1099–1100.
I would add that the walls of Jerusalem were built to keep the Gentiles out. In the New Jerusalem, the gates are open, even at night, because the New Jerusalem will be home to Jew and Gentile alike.
Moreover, at one time, the powers and principalities — the kings and nations — were rivals of God himself, as the earlier visions in the Revelation make more than clear. Now, the Lord of lords and King of kings will receive the praise and honor of all others — including, of course, lords and kings (those who are there).