February 12: Revelation 21:27

Revelation 21:27

“And (in) no (way) shall all (that is) [i.e. anything] common come into her, and (even more) the (one) doing (what is) stinking and false, (none shall come in) if not [i.e. except for] the (one)s having been written in the paper-roll [i.e. scroll] of life of [i.e. belonging to] the Lamb.”

Verse 27 essentially concludes the description of the “new Jerusalem”, and it is, I think, fundamental to a proper understanding of the vision as a whole, especially the details in vv. 24-26 (discussed in the previous note). The declaration in verse 27 defines who will dwell in the city; and this definition has both a negative (who/what will not) and positive (who will) aspect. Dwelling within the city is here expressed in terms of entering it (vb ei)se/rxomai, “come into”).

    • Negative—who/what does not come into the city:
      “all (that is) common” (pa=n koino/n)— “common” (koino/$) referring to the ordinary things of the world, in direct contrast to that which is holy (a%gio$) and of God.
      “the (one) doing (what is) stinking and false” —the noun bde/lugma (“stinking [thing]”) refers generally to the evil and wickedness in the world (characteristic of the “great city”, Babylon, 17:4-5); it also signifies a special kind of eschatological wickedness, or idolatry, that desecrates the sacred things of God (cf. Mark 13:14 par, citing Daniel 9:27 LXX); the related verb bdelu/ssw was used earlier in verse 8.
    • Positive—who does come into the city:
      “the (one)s having been written in the scroll of life of the Lamb” —this is a way of identifying believers in Christ, also used in 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15, often in direct contrast to those who are not true believers; the idiom is based, in part, on citizenship-rolls in the Greco-Roman world, i.e., a list of names of those who rightly belong to a particular city.

Based on this contrast, the inclusion of the neuter pa=n koino/n (“all [that is] common”) seems a bit out of place; it is derived from the Old Testament imagery, and especially of the future/ideal Jerusalem as the “holy city” (Isa 52:1 and 35:8; cf. also Zech 14:19-20; Psalms of Solomon 17:30; 11Q19 [Temple Scroll] 47:3-5). In a technical religious sense, to be “common” means it is impure or ‘unclean’. The “new Jerusalem”, as the dwelling place of God, is holy and sacred throughout, as is indicated by the purity and clarity of its design (vv. 11, 15-21).

This dualism of holy vs. common, together with the reference to the “nations” that, apparently, still surround the “new Jerusalem”, creates certain difficulties of interpretation, as was mentioned in the previous note. If believers dwell within the city, then are these nations and kings non-believers? Were not all the non-believers punished/destroyed in the Judgment scenes of the prior chapters? Who exactly are these “nations”?

In the previous note, I touched upon the most relevant and informative parallel to this imagery in the book of Revelation—the vision scene of chapter 7, with its two-fold depiction of believers as the people of God:

    • 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel (vv. 4-8)
    • A great multitude from all the Nations (vv. 9ff)

In early Christianity, the imagery found in prophecies such as Isaiah 60:3ff, with its theme of the nations coming (to Jerusalem) to give homage and worship to the God of Israel, was applied directly to the proclamation of the Gospel and early Christian mission to the Gentiles. In other words, the eschatological/Messianic imagery was re-interpreted in the context of Gentiles (the “nations”) coming to faith in Christ. These Gentile believers, together with their fellow Israelite/Jewish believers, formed the true people of God, the people of the new Covenant. Paul was the most fervent and consistent advocate of this new theological and religious approach, but it can be seen throughout the New Testsment, and features prominently in the visionary narrative of Revelation (as has been discussed). The symbolism of the nations and their gifts in vv. 24-26 must be interpreted in this light. Consider, then, the details of this description:

    • “the nations will walk about through her light” —believers from the nations, who are in the city (and so walk through the light of God which pervades it); in a sense, the nations, as such (i.e. the ethnic divisions and distinctions), are sanctified and made holy this way.
    • “the kings of the earth carry their honor/splendor into her” —the presence of believers is here depicted as a gift from the nations (their kings); through the coming of Gentiles into the city (as believers), the nations, figuratively speaking, give all that is their true honor and splendor—believers being the glory (do/ca) of the nations.
    • “her gate-ways certainly shall not be shut by day…” —these ‘gifts’ are eternal, they are not based not natural (worldly) or temporal factors, “day” now being derived from the light of God Himself, without any darkness or “night”; for believers, these gate-ways are always open, while they are closed/barred to the wicked.
    • “and they will bring the honor and the value of the nations into her” —this essentially re-states the situation in v. 24b; the dual-reference to the honor (do/ca) of the nations is best understood as (1) the entry of believers in the city, followed by (2) the specific honor/worship of God which they give, eternally, as they come ever through the always-open gates.

This imagery of the nations coming to faith in Christ may seem incongruous with the previous visions, if we attempt to read them as a continuous and consistent narrative. In point of fact, however, chapters 21-22 represent the climax of the book, in which all of the previous themes, and many of the earlier visionary symbols, are brought together, and restated in new forms and combinations. Throughout the book, Old Testament motifs, which would have originally related to Israel (as the people of God), have been applied to believers. Moreover, even the Scriptures, which had been given a Messianic and eschatological interpretation in Jewish writings of the period, have been reinterpreted in light of Christian eschatology. This is certainly true of Isa 60:3ff in relation to the description of the “new Jerusalem”. In 11:1ff, believers are concentrated in the Temple sanctuary, while outside the “great city” is overrun by the wickedness of the nations. Now the situation has been transformed, and the entire city is the dwelling of believers, while the nations eternally bring holy gifts (that of the believers themselves) into her.

While the description of the city proper concludes at the end of chapter 21, the theme of the “new Jerusalem” continues in the opening verses of chapter 22 (vv. 1-5), which are also transitional to the final sections of the book. We will consider the scenario of 22:1-5 in the next daily note.

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