In the remainder of chapter 21, the seer (John) is given a colorful description of the “new Jerusalem”, the heavenly city that descends to earth marking the beginning of the New Age. The initial motif was established in the introductory section (vv. 2ff), and now it is presented in more detail. The individual details, discussed below (and in the following notes), develop the overall symbol.
“And (then) came one out of the seven Messengers holding the seven offering-dishes, the (one)s (hav)ing been full of the seven last (thing)s striking (the earth), and he spoke with me, saying: ‘(Come) here, (and) I will show you the bride, the woman [i.e. wife] of the Lamb!'”
This continues the bridal/nuptial imagery from earlier in these visions (19:7-9; 21:2; cf. also 14:4-5), which I have already discussed (cf. on 19:7ff and 14:4f). In those passages, it is believers, collectively, who are the bride; here, however, and in verse 2, it is the city presented as a bride. This would seem to make clear that we are not dealing with an actual city at all, but with a people—i.e., believers, the people of God. In a similar manner, in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, “Jerusalem” and “Zion” often refer, not to the city per se, but to its people—the people of Judah (and Israel). Believers are specifically said to be the bride (and wife) of the Lamb—the exalted Jesus—as in 19:7; it is a beautiful figure for a covenantal and spiritual union between believers and Christ. This feminine imagery, of the people of God depicted as a Woman, builds upon two important strands of symbolism from earlier in the book:
- The Woman in chapter 12, which has an exalted/heavenly aspect (v. 1, cp. verses 10-12), and yet who also faces suffering and persecution on earth (vv. 2, 4ff, 13-17). She gives ‘birth’ both to Jesus (her firstborn son) and to believers in Christ (her other children).
- The contrast with the Prostitute in chapters 17-18 (also 14:8 and 19:2-3); she too is symbolized as a city—the “great city” (Babylon)—even as the people of God (believers) are represented as the “holy city” (Jerusalem), cp. 2/4 Esdras 10:27-28, 44-45ff.
The point of contrast, between the Bride and the Prostitute, is alluded to by the reference to the bowl-cycle of Judgment visions (chaps. 15-16).
“And he bore me away from (there), in the Spirit, up on(to) a great and high mountain, and he showed me the holy city Yerushalaim, stepping [i.e. coming] down out of the heaven from God, holding the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God, her (bril)liant light (being) like a most valuable stone, as a iaspis-stone being (clear) as ice.”
The transport of the seer “in the Spirit” (e)n pneu/mati) follows the pattern of several earlier visions (cf. 4:2; 17:3, and note the initial motif in 1:10). The reference in 17:3 is perhaps most relevant, as it continues the parallel between the wicked Prostitute-woman (earthly “Babylon”) and the holy Bride (heavenly “Jerusalem”). Direct references and allusions to the Spirit are strangely lacking in the book of Revelation, especially within the visions themselves. This is perhaps to be explained by the focus in the visions on the actions of the wicked, and of the Judgment that is to come upon the earth. I would argue that the symbolism in the concluding vision of chaps. 21-22 relates very much to the Spirit of God; this will be discussed as we proceed.
The mountain location here may reflect the setting of Ezekiel 40ff (v. 2) and its description of the future/ideal Jerusalem; there could also be an echo of the Sinai tradition (i.e. Moses observing the [heavenly] pattern of the Tent shrine, Exod 24:15-25:10, cf. also Acts 7:44; Hebrews 9). However, mountain-symbolism is archetypal, with fundamental religious significance across many cultures and traditions. The mountain represents a meeting place between heaven and earth, between God and humankind; the (temple) Shrine/Sanctuary building serves a similar symbolic purpose, and can also be identified as a mountain location. This explains how the ancient site of Jerusalem itself—Zion, the “city of David”—where the Temple is located, can be thought of as a “mountain” (i.e., Mount Zion).
The descent of the new/heavenly Jerusalem here repeats the earlier notice in verse 2 (cf. my earlier note), using the same verb katabai/nw (lit. “step down”). It is a common verb, however in the Johannine writings (esp. the Gospel), katabai/nw, with the related a)nabai/nw (“step up”), have special theological and Christological significance (discussed in prior notes and articles). To the extent that the book of Revelation is part of the same Johannine Tradition (and Community), the verb would almost certainly have the same special connotation here. Clearly, the heavenly origin of this “city” is being emphasized. Jerusalem plays an important role—both symbolic and literal—in Jewish eschatology and apocalyptic of the period, drawing in large measure on the exilic (and post-exilic) prophecies in Ezekiel 40-48 and Zechariah (2:5; 8:3, 20ff; 14:7-8, 16ff), as also throughout much of deutero-Isaiah (chaps. 40-66, e.g. 51:3ff; 54:11-12; 60:1-5ff; 65:17-19; cp. the earlier traditions of 2:2-4 par, etc).
The initial added detail here in verse 11 draws upon traditional motifs of brilliant light (fwsth/r) and clarity (kru/stallo$ “[made] like ice”) to depict the divine or heavenly splendor (do/ca). The association of God with light reflects basic religious symbolism, and scarcely requires any explanation; however, it is possible that certain Isaian passages, understood in an eschatological sense, are specifically in view (e.g., 30:26; 42:6ff; 58:8ff; 60:1-3, 19-20). The crystalline (kru/stallo$) characteristic is a bit more specialized, but it can feature in depictions of divine manifestation (theopany) and the heavenly splendor, as in the famous vision of Ezekiel (1:22). Almost certainly there is an allusion here to Isa 54:12 (cf. below), as also to the “glassy sea” in the earlier vision of 15:2. What these characteristics emphasize is that the “new Jerusalem” possesses (“holds”) the very do/ca (“honor, splendor”) of God Himself.
The other motif highlighted is that of a valuable stone (li/qo$). Here the adjective is a superlative (“most valuable”, ti/mio$). Elsewhere in the New Testament, the idiom of the valuable/precious stone is largely limited to citations of Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22 (cf. Mark 12:10-11 par; Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:4-7; also Eph 2:20), where the precious stone is Christ himself. However, 1 Pet 2:5f also identifies believers as precious “living stones”, symbolism which is closer in meaning to that in Rev 21:10ff. Here the stone is described as resembling ia&spi$ (“jasper”), which can refer to stones of various colors; probably a clear blue (or bluish-green) is meant, like the ‘sapphire’ pavement in the theophany of Exod 24:10 (cf. also Ezek 1:26; Isa 54:11, and further in Rev 21:19). The same stones are mentioned in the throne-vision of God in Rev 4:3.
What follows in vv. 12-14 is a description of the “gates” and “walls” of the city, continuing with the imagery of brilliant light, clarity, and resemblance to precious stones. Almost certainly, a reference to the prophecy in Isaiah 54:11-12ff is intended, as will be discussed in the next daily note. In Jewish eschatology and apocalyptic, a glorious manifestation of Jerusalem, as the place of God’s dwelling in the New Age, often features prominently—cf. Isa 60:1-3; Ezek 43:1-5; Zech 2:5; Baruch 5:1-9; Tobit 13:9ff; 14:5-7; Sirach 36:19; Psalms of Solomon 11:1-9; 17:31; 4Q554; 11Q18 frag. 10; 11Q19 [Temple Scroll] 39:12-13). Sometimes this is envisioned as a transformation of the (current) city, or, as in the book of Revelation, its replacement (cp. 1 Enoch 90:28-29; 2 Baruch 4:1-7; 2/4 Esdras 7:26; 8:52). Cf. Koester, pp. 812-14.