Jesus Wins! – Part 39: The City Foursquare

//Jesus Wins! – Part 39: The City Foursquare

Jesus Wins! – Part 39: The City Foursquare

Genesis 12:1-3

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” [1]

Revelation 21:9-21

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. 12 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 Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 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. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 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, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. [2]

Have you ever planned for a vacation to someplace exciting and found yourself daydreaming about all the fun you would have as you look at the travel brochures only to get back home and realize you needed a vacation after taking your vacation? It was fun but work and mail and bills have piled up in your absence and the traveling was exhausting. After the vacation, you begin to wonder if the destination was worth the travel, the time, the money and playing catch-up back home. In our sin-fractured experience, nothing is ever quite what it’s cracked up to be.

When your vacation is over, at least you’re back home. You have a place to live; a job; a family and friends to see. But what if you had to leave your home, your business, your extended family, and your friends and travel one-way to some completely unknown location on the command of a god you’ve never before heard of who just appeared to you with some rather unspecific promise of greatness at some future point.

There’s no travel brochure, no description of your luxurious destination, no website with pictures and visitor reviews. And when you get to this place you have to live out of tents the rest of your life surrounded by quite a few hostile natives. As for becoming a great nation, you eventually have two kids and one of them is rejected by God as not being part of this great nation promise. Where’s your great kingdom. Where’s your capital city? Where’s your land? The only land you ever own is the family burial plot you buy. Whatever uncertainty you might have about John’s description of eternity, Abraham had WAY more reason to be uncertain about God’s promises.

Yet, St. Author of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 11:8-10:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. [3]

The point is this: Abraham got no travel brochure. His journey was not completed in the book of Genesis; it is completed here in Revelation 21 and 22. Abraham understood his pilgrimage of trust was leading him to an eternal destination he never heard described. But you who follow in the footsteps of Abraham’s faith are call by Paul, “sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). You get to see Abraham’s destination, this city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. You get John’s travel brochure complete with pictures. You see through the eyes of Abraham’s faith as John records his mountaintop vision.

As we noted last week, these two chapters describe the church triumphant, all God’s people in glory. John uses four images: a bride; a city; a temple; and a garden. Revelation 21:9 begins the final of the seven visionary cycles and the last main section of the Apocalypse. We see this with the angel’s invitation, “Come” (vs. 9). In 4:1, John was called through heaven’s open door with the word “Come.” In 17:1, John was summoned to come witness the judgment and destruction of God’s enemies (17:1-21:8). John is shown this vision by one of the angels who executed the bowl judgments, emphasizing a link to God’s faithfulness to carry out his promises for both judgment and blessing. The wording of 17:1 and 21:9-10 is nearly identical, acting as a literary introduction to another vision and also as a contrast between the harlot of Babylon and the bride of the Lamb.[4] All history is summed up by the two women of Revelation: we belong either to the doomed and dying harlot of Babylon destined for eternal wrath, or to the bride of the Lamb destined for glory that we taste even now.[5]

That John writes cyclically and not consecutively is obvious again in this final section. For the second time (vs. 2), John mentions the bride and the holy city…coming down. If you read these chapters as a consecutive timeline, the bride called the new Jerusalem makes several appearances and at least two descents from heaven. In verses 9 and 10, we see the hearing-vision pattern we saw in 5:5-6. There, John heard about the Lion, but looked and saw the slaughtered Lamb standing to break the seals of judgment. Here, the apostle hears of “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” but sees “the holy city Jerusalem.”

DESCRIBING PEOPLE

Bear in mind that the description of this holy city is a symbolic vision of a people, not a place. John hears that he is about to see a vision of “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” The bride of Christ is the church, the redeemed people of God. What drove Abraham forward was not the physical land or capital city, but intimacy with the god he came to know as the One True Creator God of the universe. Even though this is our heavenly travel brochure, it is describing the beauty, the abundance, the security, and the grandeur of the glorified church’s eternal relationship to God in Christ Jesus. It is NOT describing what the physical location looks like but what our relationship with God apart from the presence and power of sin will be like.  To create this description, John draws from the colors of the Old Testament.

Now, if you cannot wrap your head around these visions as descriptions of a relationship rather than a place, feel free to just enjoy the spender John describes and envision a city, and a garden, and golden streets; picture yourself wade-fishing with dry flies in the River of Life while munching on fruit from the Trees of Life. After all, our eternal lives will be physical lives in a physical new earth under a physical new sky. But understand, John is drawing pictures of the relationship, not the real estate. “We should bear in mind that he is describing what he is permitted to see by comparing it to that which human beings are able to comprehend.”[6]

Quoting from Isaiah 64, Paul stressed relationship over real estate as well in 1 Cor. 2:7-10 when he wrote:

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’ — 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.[7]

John saw the bride as the heavenly city, “having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 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 Israel were inscribed.”[8] The high wall is symbolic of the safety enjoyed by all those dwelling within. The reference to twelve gates, guarded by twelve angels with the name of the twelve tribes of Israel, recalls Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly city in Ezekiel 48:31-34, and points to the fact that the heavenly city is the true Israel, her splendor far exceeding that which the prophets had seen. “The number twelve occurs ten times in this chapter and the next one (vv. 12 [three times], 14 [three times], 16, 21 [twice]; 22:2). In the Apocalypse, this number always illustrates God, his people, and their dwelling places.”[9] It is symbolic of the beginning of the nation Israel and the beginning of the church.

The true Israel is also the church. In verse 14, John sees the following: “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.[10] The gates at each of the four parts of the compass speaks to the universal nature of God’s kingdom. God’s people are drawn from every point on the globe, from every tribe, and language, and nation. There are so many saints that they cannot be counted. In addition to twelve gates (representing the Old Testament people of God), the heavenly city has twelve foundations, symbolic of the apostles who bore witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ, who is the chief cornerstone in the temple of God, where all of God’s people now dwell in perfect peace and safety.

MEASURMENTS

Earlier in Revelation, John was given a reed and told to measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worshiped (11:1). Now the angel takes in hand a golden measuring reed. The golden reed harmonizes with heavenly items that are made out of gold: lampstands, harps, bowls, crowns, and incense altar. Even the streets are made out of pure gold.

In verses 15-16, John writes, “And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width.[11] John’s description reflects the layout of Israel’s tabernacle given by God to Moses on a mountain and was to be constructed using rectangles and squares (Ex. 25:40). Many of the important objects were square, including the altars of burnt offerings (Ex. 27:1) and incense (Ex. 30:2), and the high priest’s breastplate containing the 12 precious stones that reappear set into the walls here in John’s vision (Ex. 28:16). All the numbers we have heard in Revelation to describe God’s people are squared numbers (e.g. 144,000).[12] Being “foursquare” means the eternal, glorified church reflects perfect balance and harmony and proportion. Ancient writers used the word foursquare to convey the concepts of integrity, completion and perfection.[13]

Not only is the glorified church pictured as a foursquare city, at the end of verse 16 we are also pictured as a cube, “Its length and width and height are equal.[14] In the tabernacle and, later, in the temple there is only one cubical space: the holy of holies, the place where God lived (1 Ki. 16:20). The original holy of holies was relatively small, but in John’s vision this cube is approximately 1,500 miles – large enough to occupy the entire Mediterranean region from Jerusalem to Spain. The cubed city is the size of the Hellenistic world of John’s day.[15] The measurements are figurative. For instance, a cube has twelve edges: four at the top, four at the bottom, and four on the sides. Each edge is twelve thousand stadia, which multiplied by twelve comes to 144,000. This is the same number as that of the Lamb’s followers (14:1) For John, the matter is one of symbolism.[16] It is representative of the full number of elect Israelites (12 tribes) and the full number of elect Gentiles (12 apostles). It suggests a vast number of redeemed people living in God’s presence. In the original tabernacle and temple, only the high priest could enter the most sacred cubed space on a single day once a year. But now, all the vast number of glorified saints live in the intimate presence of God.

The sheer size of the glorified church ought to challenge us who live now among the earth-dwellers to expand our expectations for the gospel. God intends to redeem a vast number of people, not simply a few here and there. “For this reason, Christians should believe that there is a reasonable chance that people placed in our lives have been put there by God in order to hear the message of Jesus, believe, and receive salvation.”[17] This huge space also symbolizes the immensity and profound nature of God’s plans for his people in his new creation. The eternal city is not only symmetrical and complete and the place where God dwells intimately with his children, it is vast beyond understanding in its eternal scope and purposes.

COVENANT BLESSINGS

The bride’s glorified beauty is far above our human imagination. “18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 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, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.[18]

God’s redeemed community reflects God’s glory. The city is not only beautiful beyond description, but the full range of precious gems tell us that it is perfect, not because of the great worth of the gold and the gemstones–glorious as they are–but because God dwells here with his people. It is God’s presence which gives the city its splendor, not the gems embedded in its walls, nor the gold which makes up its streets. The city itself continues to be described in association with the wall because of its figurative meaning.

The city represents the fellowship of God’s people in the everlasting presence of God (Isa. 52:1ff.; 62:1–5; Ezek. 48:35; Zech. 1:16; 2:2–5). The “great and high wall” represents the unbreakable nature of this fellowship. Accordingly, the description of the city as “pure gold, like pure glass” reemphasizes the earlier vision in v 11 of “the city having the glory of God, her luminary like precious stone, like a jasper stone shining like crystal.” The gold intensifies the attribute of the city as that which reflects God’s glory. This feature comes from 1 Kgs. 6:20–22, where not only were the inner sanctuary and altar overlaid with gold, but Solomon “overlaid the whole house [ the temple] with gold.[19]

Again, the gold (like the precious jewels) is figurative. Gold is not a see-through material. The jewels allude to those found on the high-priest’s square breastplate that was worn when entering the holy of holies to represent the presence of all Israelites with God (Ex. 28:17-20). Peter wrote that believers are “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood.”[20] The people once represented by stones on the high priest’s breastplate now reside in God’s eternal perfect presence and reflect his unimaginable glory. God’s pledge that his people would one day live in the holy of holies by virtue of a once-for-all time sacrifice of the Perfect Lamb of God, is now consummated.

There is a unity in scripture that cannot be explained apart from the fact it is God’s revelation of himself and his plans for his people. Abraham received the promise of this new land about which John writes and the divine intimacy that would permeate it. Moses ascended a mountain to receive the plans of the tabernacle from the Lord. Ezekiel had a similar experience as he received his vision of a new temple that anticipated the restoration of God’s exiled people back to their promised land and the resumption of fellowship with God through sacrifices. Now John is taken up upon a mountain to measure the New and True Jerusalem that is one giant temple of the Lord.

Moses’ vision, Ezekiel’s vision, and John’s vision direct the Bible’s readers to worship the perfect Creator God by means of sacrifices. All three temple visions form a progression that consummates with John’s Revelation of a time when all God’s people will possess greater privileges than an Old Covenant high priest, for they will live undefiled for eternity in the holy of holies in the presence of Father, Son, and Spirit. Moses’ tabernacle and the later temple were divided with a thick curtain to keep sinners outside God’s direct presence in the perfectly-cubed room. But when the perfect God-Man, Messiah Jesus, shed his sinless blood for his sinful people, that curtain was removed. There is no curtain between man and God in the four-square temple-city.  There is the perfect fulfillment of God’s promise of divine intimacy: I will be their God, they shall be my people, and I will tabernacle with them.

If you are trusting into the perfectly-lived life of Messiah Jesus for the holiness without which no man can see God, and into his sacrificial, blood-shedding death as the Lamb of God in payment for your sins, then you are part this glorious picture John paints. You are the precious jewels, the great secure wall, the incomprehensibly-pure gold, and the perfect holy of holies (the place where God tabernacles with you).

St. Author of Hebrews explains John’s vision like this:

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.[21]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Ge 12:1–3.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:9–21.

[3] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Heb 11:8–10.

[4] Beale, 1064.

[5] Phillips, 633.

[6] Kistemaker and Hendriksen, 565.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 2:7–10.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:11–12.

[9] Kistemaker and Hendriksen, 565.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:14.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:15–16.

[12] Phillips, 643.

[13] Beale, 1075.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:16.

[15] Beale, 1074.

[16] Kistemaker and Hendriksen, 568.

[17] Phillips, 644.

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:18–21.

[19] Beale, 1079.

[20] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 1 Pe 2:5.

[21] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Heb 10:19–23.

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