Earlier, John had seen heaven and earth disappear (20:11) and now saw a new heaven and a new earth. In addition to the passing away of the former heaven and earth, John observed that there was no sea. (21:1)
Based on his knowledge of Isaiah’s prophecy, he would not have understood the passing away of the former heaven and earth to have meant the destruction of the universe and its being replaced by an entirely new creation. Isaiah’s prophecy pointed to a transformation of the former heaven and earth, with an end to everything that had given rise to sadness and suffering. (Isaiah 65:17-25) As evident from 2 Peter 3:13, believers in the first century looked forward to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. In his letter to the Romans (8:19-21, NAB), the apostle Paul wrote: “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Human sinfulness has adversely affected the whole environment (the realm in which humans live, or the earth and the visible sky or celestial dome). Accordingly, the liberation of the creation from the baneful effects of human sinfulness and the creation’s enjoyment of the “glorious freedom of the children of God” could not possibly mean destruction but must mean a grand renewal or transformation.
The absence of the sea could signify that the dangers with which the sea was associated in ancient times would cease to exist. Another possibility is that the element from which the beast rose would be no more. (13:1)
The scene John next saw confirms that this renewal or transformation is related to the revealing of the children of God. Out of heaven from God, the holy city, New Jerusalem, descended. That city is the Lamb’s adorned bride or the entire body of God’s beloved children. (21:2, 9)
A loud voice from the throne (probably from the Son who is at his Father’s right hand, as God thereafter is referred to in the third person) revealed the kind of transformation that would follow the descent of the New Jerusalem or the start of the city’s beneficent rule over the earth. Humans would enjoy the blessing of God’s presence, for he would tent among them and acknowledge and treat them as his people. He would wipe away all tears, removing all causes of sadness. Death, mourning, wailing, and pain would cease to be, ending everything associated with the old form of the world. (21:3, 4)
John heard the assurance of the Almighty, the one seated on the throne, “Behold, I am making all things new.” The Most High then directed John to write, evidently what he had heard, and added still another assurance, “These words are trustworthy and true,” leaving no doubt respecting the dependability of the promise and its certain fulfillment. (21:5)
So sure is the fulfillment respecting everything revealed to John that he heard the one seated on the throne say, “They have come to be.” As the one who is the originator and the one who brings all that he starts or initiates to a successful conclusion, the Almighty identified himself as the “Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” To anyone “thirsting,” probably in the sense of earnestly desiring an abiding relationship with him, he would give them free drink from the fountain of water of life. This would assure the thirsty one of an eternal future and an abiding relationship with the Most High. For anyone who conquers, remaining loyal to God as did his Son Jesus Christ while on earth, the promised blessings are a sure inheritance. To the victor, the Most High says, “To him, I will be God, and to me, he will be a son.” (21:6, 7)
Cowards (persons who out of fear deny God and Christ and abandon the way of uprightness), faithless ones, those indulging in filthy, degrading deeds, murderers, persons persisting in a life of sexual immorality, practicers of occult arts, idolaters, and liars who mislead and harm others with their falsehoods are permanently excluded from any relationship with the holy God. They are destined for the lake of fire, condemned to second death (from which no resurrection is possible). (21:8)
One of the seven angels involved in pouring out the seven last plagues spoke to John, telling him that he would show him the Lamb’s bride. In spirit, John found himself transported to a very high mountain, enabling him to see the holy city, New Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. The city, representing the entire company making up the composite bride of Christ, proved to be one of unsurpassing splendor. It had the “glory of God,” a radiance like that of a precious gem, resembling jasper (perhaps white in color), with every facet reflecting like crystal. The city’s high wall had twelve gates (three on each of its four sides), with an angel stationed at each gate. Indicative of the city’s link to God’s servants prior to Jesus’ time on earth, each gate bore the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The city’s wall rested on twelve foundation stones, with each oblong stone supporting one twelfth of the wall and being inscribed with the name of one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (21:9-14)
The angel serving as John’s guide had a golden measuring rod to make known to him the dimensions of the city, its gates, and its wall. In the shape of a cube, the city measured 12,000 stadia (approximately 1,500 [c. 2,400 kilometers] ) in width, length, and height. (It is possible that the 12,000 stadia refer to the sum of the north, south, east and west sides of the city. If so, the city would be smaller but still of colossal proportions.) The measurement of 12,000 stadia parallels the number from each tribe of Israel marked with the seal of the living God. (7:5-8) Similarly, the 144-cubit wall height suggests a link to the total number of 144,000. The measurement of the wall is specifically identified as being according to a man’s measure and identical to the standard the angel used. As the city ascended many miles upward, the wall height of 144 cubits or some 200 feet (over 60 meters) was comparatively low, suggesting that it basically served to indicate that the city needed no defenses and that the wall kept out any unworthy ones from entering the city. The jasper wall surrounded a city of pure gold, clear like glass (or possibly meaning having a reflective quality like that of a polished mirror). Each of the twelve sections of the jasper wall stretching for many miles on each side of the twelve gates rested on a different precious or semiprecious stone—jasper (perhaps white), sapphire (blue), chalcedony (milky white, gray, or pale blue), emerald (green), sardonyx (possibly reddish brown), sardius (red), chrysolite (golden yellow), beryl (bluish green or green), topaz (yellow), chrysoprase (golden green), hyacinth (blue), and amethyst (purple or violet). Each gate consisted of one pearl, and the city’s main thoroughfare was gold, transparent like glass (possibly meaning that the gold reflected like a polished mirror). (21:15-21)
The city had no need for a temple, for God himself resided in the city and so did the Lamb. By their presence, the Almighty God and his Son constituted the city’s temple. With the glory or splendor of God serving as illumination and the Lamb shining like a lamp, the city was not dependent on light from the sun by day or from the moon at night. Divine illumination would provide what the nations needed to guide their path. Portrayed as a capital city exercising unlimited authority, the city would be receiving tribute from the “kings of the earth,” which would contribute to its glory or magnificence. Constantly illuminated and thus always in a state of absolute purity and free from any negative trait associated with darkness, night would never be experienced in the city and its gates would never need to be closed. Everything that is magnificent and honorable or noble from the nations would have free access, but nothing of a profane nature or anyone guilty of degrading behavior or lying would be able to enter. Entrance would be reserved only for those recorded in the Lamb’s scroll. (21:22-27)
The colossal proportions of the city, including incomprehensible quantities of the finest gold and precious gems and semiprecious stones of huge dimensions, provide a powerful visual image of the inestimable value the Almighty God and his Son assign to the faithful ones. During the time of their alien residence on earth, many of them were treated with contempt, like refuse. In God’s eyes and those of his Son, however, they proved to be very precious. For persecuted believers, the visual image would have served as a strong motivator to continue living a life of faith.
Note: Eight of the precious and semiprecious stones mentioned in Revelation 21:19 and 20 are the same ones the Septuagint lists for the high priest’s breastpiece. They are sardius (sárdion), topaz (topázion), emerald (smáragdos), sapphire (sáppheiros but a different spelling in Revelation [sápphiros]), jasper (íaspis), amethyst (améthystos), chrysolite (chrysólithos), and beryl (beryllion, which is the diminutive form of the term appearing in Revelation [béryllos]). (Exodus 28:17-20; 36:17-20)