(Rev. 21:9-11 ESV) 9 Then came one of the seven angels who 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.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
We covered this passage generally in the posts covering Rev 21:1-2. As a reminder: the idea of a New Jerusalem kept in heaven goes back to, at least, Isaiah, and is found very prominently in Hebrews but also Galatians, among other NT books.
The commentators struggle with whether the New Jerusalem contains or is the church or at least the part of the church that has predeceased the Second Coming. But the dead in Christ are called out of their graves, not heaven. And yet the church is frequently called the bride of Christ in the NT. So it fits and it doesn’t fit.
The commentaries seem to agree that the New Jerusalem is the holy city in which the heavenly Temple is found — as we’re taught in Hebrews especially. And it contains the perfection of the saints. Indeed, to the extent we already have a presence in heaven (covered earlier; Eph 2:6), that presence is shown as coming to earth.
In Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, N. T. Wright pictures the entire narrative of scripture as the separation of heaven from earth, ultimately concluding in this passage with the rejoining of heaven and earth.
In Eden, God walked with Adam in the cool of the morning. In that place, heaven and earth were joined so that God and man could co-exist in the same place. But heaven and earth were separated when Adam and Eve sinned. God appeared in human form to Abraham. God appeared to Moses and the Israelites on Mt. Sinai.
God established a permanent connection between heaven and earth in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and then Solomon’s Temple. And then heaven was torn from the earth when Nebuchadnezzar brought down the Temple and took God’s people into Babylonian Captivity.
Heaven and earth remained apart until Jesus came to the earth. The wall that separates the two was torn open at Jesus’ birth, as the angelic throng announced his coming. Again, at his baptism and Transfiguration, the wall between heaven and earth was ripped open for a moment.
Each Christian is now a temple of the Holy Spirit, and in some mystical, incomprehensible sense, heaven and earth join where we are, so that we live on this earth while also sitting on heaven’s throne as a part of Jesus (Eph 2:6). And when Jesus returns, there will be no wall at all — heaven and earth will exist together as one.
Just as Babylon symbolizes the socio-economic and religious culture arrayed in antagonism to God, so the bride, portrayed as the new Jerusalem, represents the redeemed community, which stands on God’s side (see above on 21:3). To construe 21:9ff. as a vision of a future literal city is to miss its fundamental symbolic nature, which is signaled not only by the parallel of 17:1–3 and 21:9–10 but also by numerous indications of symbolism throughout 21:1–22:5. This means not that there will be no literal new cosmos but that the point of the vision is the focus on the exalted saints as the central feature of the new order (see further on 21:1).
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), 1064–1065.
God does all this — from Gen 1 to the last verse of the Revelation — for the saints. It’s all for us — if we’ll be faithful.
The angelic announcement
One of the seven angels who carried out the seven last plagues (chap. 16) now commands the Seer to come and see the bride, the wife of the Lamb. The angel is undoubtedly the one who in 17:1 summoned John to witness the judgment of the great prostitute. This seems to be the purpose of the identical introductions. It also draws attention to the contrast between the great prostitute (the wicked city Babylon) and the bride of the Lamb (the holy city Jerusalem). One is of the earth, symbolizing the unbridled passion of evil, and the other descends from heaven, the epitome of all that is pure and beautiful.
Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 388–389.
The angel transported John to a “great and high mountain,” probably where the new city-temple was located, since OT prophecy understood the coming Jerusalem as situated on a high mountain. Like Ezek. 40:1–2, Rev. 21:10 introduces the vision of the future temple. What Ezekiel saw was to happen in the future, John also saw as still to happen in the future. The two prophets’ visions prophesy the same reality of the final, permanent establishment of God’s presence with his people. But the different pictorial details in John’s vision serve to interpret the Ezekiel vision.
OT prophecy asserted that the end-time city of God and its temple would be set on a high mountain (Isa. 2:2–3; 4:1–5; 25:6–26:2; Mic. 4:1–2; cf. Ps. 48:2; Jub. 4:26; cf. Isa. 40:9: “Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion … O Jerusalem …”). 1 En. 24–25 asserts that the “high mountain,” which “excelled” all others, is God’s latter-day “throne,” on which a tree with “fruit … for food to the elect” grows. Both tree and throne are located in the temple. Ezek. 28:14, 16 says that the first “garden” of “Eden” was also on a “mountain” that contained precious stones.
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), 1065.
God’s new Temple
The temple in Israel was the temporary place where God’s glory (= presence) dwelled. But in the new creation God’s presence will not be limited to a temple structure, with the people outside the structure, but the people themselves will be both the city and the temple in which God’s presence resides (so 21:2–3, 12–14).
In the light of the clear allusions to Isaiah 40–66 in 21:1–22:5 (e.g., 21:1–2, 4–5, 19–21, 23–26; 22:5), the reference to “the glory of God” here must derive from Isa. 58:8 and 60:1–2, 19, which prophetically portray “the glory of the LORD” residing in the latter-day Jerusalem. “The glory of God” is the presence of God himself (in the OT parallels and in 21:11 “of God” may be either possessive or an appositional genitive).
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), 1066.
In other words, just as Gen 1 is a description of the organization of the Creation into a Temple for God, Rev 21 is describing the new Creation as — finally! — a Temple for God. Not just a building. Not just God’s people. The entirety of the New Heavens and New Earth, the New Jerusalem, Everything will be filled with God. And everywhere will be where he is worshiped. And Everyone will be who will worship him.