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Allocating Radiance

Revelation 21:9-21
May 30, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

The sermon starts around 16:55 in the audio file.

Or, The City of the Lamb
Series: Just Conquer #60


When God decided to create something other, when He made the world and all that is in it, His purpose was to show His glory. The end for which God created the world is to show off His greatness, which, considered from our angle would be difficult, because there is no greatness like His greatness. He is infinite, and so every one of His attributes is connected to that infinitude. Even His communicable attributes are unique to Him because they are perfect. No one communicates like Him. No one is as righteous as Him. No one is as joyful as Him. No one loves like Him.

He has done, is doing, and will do whatever shows His glory. It is revealing itself, and connects with His nature, that He is glorified by our understanding of God’s glory and, as Jonathan Edwards points out, by our delight in God’s glory, and also by sharing His glory with His people. God doesn’t preserve His glory in a gallery behind glass over which we “oooh” and “aahh,” God portions out His glory in us. The OT concept of glory (kavod) was weightiness, and God is refining His people to be gold. The NT concept of glory (doxa) was brightness, and God is polishing His people to be radiant like diamonds.

Beautiful brides are often said to be radiant, and we see in Revelation 21 the Bride of the Lamb. Cities are sometimes said to be radiant, and we see in Revelation 21 the City of the Lamb. The City-Bride is adorned for her Husband (21:2), the City-Bride is made glorious by her Husband (see also Ephesians 5:25-27). The City-Bride, and this is John’s eye-witness testimony, comes down from heaven “having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel” (21:11). The City-Bride is a place and the people, and she is glorious with and for God’s glory.

God allocates radiance all over and among His people. The descriptions and dimensions on display all work toward the glory of the Lamb, who is repeatedly referred to in this section (seven times from 21:9–22:5) as He dwells with a radiant people.

For whatever is challenging about this part of John’s vision, and there are a lot of pieces to the vision, the coming of the City is not gradual through millennia. This is not church history, it is not a vision of the spread of the gospel to the world. In its context, judgment is finished, all the unrepentant are in the lake of fire, and even Death is dead. The radiance shines in the new heaven and new earth, a new dispensation. In a broader context, the Bible refers to the final parts of our salvation, our resurrected bodies and our perfect blamelessness, and here we are. This glorified state is not the process of our sanctification, it is the end of it.

One beseeching before we look with John at the angel’s tour of the city. There are some exalted, not-of-this-world sort of descriptions to be heard. What you must not do is punt your belief over the symbolism side because someone might laugh at you for believing what the sentences say. This also means that you must not be one who laughs at those who don’t think everything is merely a symbol because it seems silly to you. If you want to make a case for maximum symbolism as the proper interpretation, do so, but for better reasons than what you think “can’t” be.

That is a dangerous standard, especially in light of passages such as Isaiah 55:9. It’s like saying God couldn’t have created the entire universe in six 24-hour days. God can’t be three Persons yet one God. There couldn’t have been a global flood. Jesus can’t be fully God and fully man. God wouldn’t have taken on flesh and then died; that’s foolish, it’s a scandal. Brothers, there is no gospel and there is no glory apart from truths that don’t “fit” our human wisdom. One man’s ludicrous is another man’s salvation (1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-23).

For that matter, the “it’s symbols all the way down” approach does not unveil, it veils, which is the opposite of the name of the book Revelation. Even more than that, it often denies the very words that are written. I listened to some messages where the preacher argued that a literal reading is unreasonable and then went on to explain that “and the sea was no more” (21:1) can’t mean that there won’t be a sea for fishing, and later he said that “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine” (21:23) obviously doesn’t mean there won’t be a sun and moon. Pressing symbolic language too far can become a justification for denying Scripture no matter how beautiful you say it is. Believe God’s Word.

The City’s External Features (verses 9-11)

At the beginning of chapter 17:1-3 an angel came to get John, took him to the wilderness, and showed him the vision of a woman. That woman was Babylon, a flashy harlot, to be conquered by the Lamb (17:14). Another angel, perhaps the same one, gets John again, takes him to a mountain, and shows him another woman, the radiant Bride, to be married to the Lamb.

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.” 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, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

The Bride was introduced in Revelation 19, and mentioned again at the beginning of chapter 21. Now she is also called the wife, because she has been united. Like Ezekiel was taken in the Spirit to a high place (Ezekiel 40:2), John is taken to a high mountain on the new earth to see the “new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:2).

She has the glory of God as her clothing. This glory shines (φωστήρ), and it is not skin deep like the prostitute, though the surface sparkle is legit. The radiance is compared to jasper, which unlike our current jasper is more than likely a reference to opaque precious stones, even diamonds. The light bounces and plays and paints the scene, clear as crystal.

The City’s Wall, Gates, and Foundations (verses 12-14)

Three external features are mentioned: the wall around the city, the gates in the wall, and the foundations of the wall.

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 sons of Israel were inscribed–on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.

That the walls have a symbolic emphasis is clear, because there are no more enemies at this point on the new earth. That the walls have symbolic significance does not mean that the wall is only a symbol. The details explain/clarify, they do not make it enigmatic/cryptic.

We’ll see a measurement for the wall in the next paragraph, the first focus is on the gates. Each gate is watched over by an angel. If all the enemies are in the lake of fire, why the watchers? Good question. But if the gates are symbols of ways into the church, are the watching angels also symbolic? Symbols of what? If the angels are not symbols, why are the gates symbols but not the angels? It’s better to take the vision as John saw it.

The twelve tribes fit one name on each of the twelve gates, not all twelve names on all twelve gates, comparable to (though not the same as) Ezekiel’s vision which named each gate separately in Ezekiel 48:30-34. Just as the camp was organized with gates in the OT, so all four directions allow access from any side.

And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Along with the sons of Israel are the apostles of the Lamb. We aren’t told whether it was Judas’ replacement, Matthias, or Paul. But the Twelve were a group, with names, not just symbols of another group.

Ephesians 2:20 does talk about how the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. It’s really surprising how many interpreters conclude that Revelation 21:14 is the same truth pictured. But Ephesians 2:20 doesn’t talk about gates and foundations, only foundations, and that would mean that the OT representatives are also foundations, making 24, not 12. Even more, the gates are sons of Israel, not prophets. The foundation in Ephesians 2:20 is a figure of speech, but that does not make it the same in Revelation 21.

Israel and the Church are together, as represented by the Tribes and the Apostles, but also still distinguishable.

The City’s Measurements (verses 15-17)

Another section starts here as the angel returns to view. And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The angel provides information not distinguished by sight alone.

John himself had a measuring rod in chapter 11, but it wasn’t gold, and he was only measuring the temple. This is the city in which there is no temple (21:22), which is also significant for those who try to connect Ezekiel 40:3-5 to the measurement, where Ezekiel measures a temple, not a city.

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. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement.

The shape was not only square (τετράγωνος – four-cornered), but a cube, since all three dimensions measure the same, length and width and height. A perfect cube was also the same of the inner part of the temple (1 Kings 6:20, a 20 cubit cube). 12,000 stadia would be somewhere between 1,400 to 1,500 miles. Different commentators liken these 2 million square miles to whatever geographical features are nearest them (e.g., from the Pacific Coast to the Mississippi River, Thomas). This would give the city a volume of about 3,375,000,000 cubic miles.

This is according to the standard cubit of human measurement but measured by an angel.

Even with verbal clarification on size and the standard used, a bunch of interpreters conclude how impossible a city this size would be. Because it’s so obviously silly (to them), 12,000 must be a symbolic number of completion, to go along with the symbolic cube of perfection, so symbol all the way down.

As for the wall, it’s only 144 cubits. And even though it’s proportional as a multiple of 12, 216 feet tall is way too small to be of any significance, compared to a 1,500 mile (7 million feet) high city. Even if it’s 216 feet thick (as the NIV includes) instead of tall, isn’t it just dumb?

So, great, then where are we? And why bother with a measuring rod, and also say that this is by human measurement?

The cube does reflect completion and perfection, and it is part of God allocating radiance actually.

The City’s Materials (verses 18-21)

The city is radiant. And every kind of jewel adorned it.

The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. 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, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

The fact that the wall is made of jasper means “its purpose is not defense but rather radiating the glory of God” (Osborne).

There is a possible connection to the various jewels that the high priest wore in his breast-piece (Exodus 28:17-20). Eight of the stones referred to in Revelation are mentioned in Exodus, and perhaps the other four could be related. As stones went along with each month, and as stones represented each tribe, so these stones would represent all the people.

And, yet, these are not the stones of the gates, which had the names of the 12 tribes of Israel, these are the foundations, which have the names of the apostles, which requires switching the symbolism to make the representative point. Or, the variety and brilliance of the most precious sorts of stones make up a radiant foundation.

The final two materials are about the gates themselves and then the streets.

And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

The gates were made of a single pearl. The gates weren’t measured for height; if they were the entire height they would be 216 foot tall. Silly, right? But why? Who says a pearl in the new earth can’t be so large?

We sing about streets of gold. This gold is so golden that it’s free from any impurity that would color it, so as glass. To our symbolism committed friends, this represents what?


Israel and the Church are God’s people, the Bride of the Lamb, and God has allocated radiance for them, His own glory to clothe them.

The believing remnant is likened to jewels in the Old Testament. In Malachi 3:16–17, it is said of those who fear the Lord and meditate on His name, “‘They shall be Mine,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘on the day that I make them my jewels.’ (KJV); think the Jewels of Anniera in The Wingfeather Saga. We are adorned as jewels, as a glorious bride in a glorious city.


This world is not our home. What should we do until we get home? We are often out of place, out of step, out of favor. So, as those who are wise, make the best use of the time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16). As those who are trained in the words of the faith and good doctrine, train for godliness, which holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Timothy 4:6-8). In the evil day, having done all, stand firm (Ephesians 6:13).


But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:20–4:1, ESV)