Barnes’ Notes on the Bible Revelation 21
VERSES: 9 – 27
v.9] Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to meRevelation 21:9 NU-Text and M-Text omit to me. and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”Revelation 21:9 M-Text reads I will show you the woman, the Lamb’s bride.
And there came unto me one of the seven angels … – See the notes on Rev 16:6-7. Why one of these angels was employed to make this communication is not stated. It may be that as they had been engaged in bringing destruction on the enemies of the church, and securing its final triumph, there was a propriety that that triumph should be announced by one of their number.
And talked with me – That is, in regard to what he was about to show me.
I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife – I will show you what represents the redeemed church now to be received into permanent union with its Lord – as a bride about to be united to her husband. See the notes on ver. 2. Compare Rev 19:7-8.
v.10] And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holyRevelation 21:10 NU-Text and M-Text omit the great and read the holy city, Jerusalem. Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,
And he carried me away in the spirit – Gave him a vision of the city; seemed to place him where he could have a clear view of it as it came down from heaven. See the notes on Rev 1:10.
To a great and high mountain – The elevation, and the unobstructed range of view, gave him an opportunity to behold it in its glory.
And showed me that great city, … – As it descended from heaven. See the notes on Rev 21:2.
v.11] having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.
Having the glory of God – A glory or splendor such as became the dwelling place of God. The nature of that splendor is described in the following verses.
And her light – In Rev 21:23 it is said that “the glory of God did lighten it.” That is, it was made light by the visible symbol of the Deity – the “Shekinah.” See the Luk 2:9 note; Act 9:3 note. The word here rendered “light” – φωστὴρ phōstēr – occurs nowhere else in the New Testament except in Phi 2:15. It means, properly, a light, a lightgiver, and, in profane writers, means commonly a “window.” It is used here to denote the brightness or shining of the divine glory, as supplying the place of the sun, or of a window.
Like unto a stone most precious – A stone of the richest or most costly nature.
Even like a jasper stone – On the jasper, see the notes on Rev 4:3. It is used there for the same purpose as here, to illustrate the majesty and glory of God.
Clear as crystal – Pellucid or resplendent like crystal. There are various kinds of jasper – as red, yellow, and brown, brownish yellow, etc. The stone is essentially a quartz, and the word “crystal” here is used to show that the form of it referred to by John was clear and bright.
v.12] Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:
And had a wall great and high – Ancient cities were always surrounded with walls for protection, and John represents this as enclosed in the usual manner. The word “great” means that it was thick and strong. Its height also is particularly noticed, for it was unusual. See Rev 21:16.
And had twelve gates – Three on each side. The number of the gates correspond to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and to the number of the apostles. The idea seems to be that there would be ample opportunity of access and egress.
And at the gates twelve angels – Stationed there as guards to the New Jerusalem. Their business seems to have been to watch the gates that nothing improper should enter; that the great enemy should not make an insidious approach to this city as he did to the earthly paradise.
And names written thereon – On the gates.
Which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel – So in the city which Ezekiel saw in vision, which John seems also to have had in his eye. See Eze 48:31. The inscription in Ezekiel denoted that that was the residence of the people of God; and the same idea is denoted here. The New Jerusalem is the eternal residence of the children of God, and this is indicated at every gate. None can enter who do not belong to that people; all who are within are understood to be of their number.
v.13] three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.
On the east three gates … – The city was square Rev 21:16, and the same number of gates is assigned to each quarter. There does not appear to be any special significancy in this fact, unless it be to denote that there is access to this city from all quarters of the world, and that they who dwell there will have come from each of the great divisions of the earth – that is, from every land,
v.14] Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the namesRevelation 21:14 NU-Text and M-Text read twelve names. of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
And the wall of the city had twelve foundations – It is not said whether these foundations were twelve rows of stones placed one above another under the city, and extending round it, or whether they were twelve stones placed at intervals. The former would seem to be the most probable, as the latter would indicate comparative feebleness and liability to fall. Compare the notes on Rev 21:19.
And in them – In the foundation of stones. That is, the names of the apostles were cut or carved in them so as to be conspicuous.
The names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb – Of the Lamb of God; the Messiah. For an illustration of this passage, see the notes on Eph 2:20.
v.15] And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall.
And he that talked with me – The angel, Rev 21:9.
Had a golden reed to measure the city – See the notes on Rev 11:1. The reed, or measuring rod, here, is of gold, because all about the city is of the most rich and costly materials. The rod is thus suited to the personage who uses it, and to the occasion. Compare a similar description in Eze 40:3-5; Eze 43:16. The object of this measuring is to show that the city has proper architectural proportions.
And the gates thereof, … – To measure every part of the city, and to ascertain its exact dimensions.
v.16] The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal.
And the city lieth four-square – It was an exact square. That is, there was nothing irregular about it; there were no crooked walls; there was no jutting out, and no indentation in the walls, as if the city had been built at different times without a plan, and had been accommodated to circumstances. Most cities have been determined in their outline by the character of the ground – by hills, streams, or ravines; or have grown up by accretions, where one part has been joined to another, so that there is no regularity, and so that the original plan, if there was any, has been lost sight of. The New Jerusalem, on the contrary, had been built according to a plan of the utmost regularity, which had not been modified by the circumstances, or varied as the city grew. The idea here may be, that the church, as it will appear in its state of glory, will be in accordance with an eternal plan, and that the great original design will have been fully carried out.
And the length is as large as the breadth – The height also of the city was the same – so that it was an exact square.
And he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs – As eight furlongs make a mile, the extent of the walls, therefore, must have been three hundred and seventy-five miles.Note: 350 miles in metric: = 563270.4m or 563.2704 km Of course, this must preclude all idea of there being such a city literally in Palestine. This is clearly a figurative or symbolical representation; and the idea is, that the city was on the most magnificent scale, and with the largest proportions, and the description here is adopted merely to indicate this vastness, without any idea that it would be understood “literally.”
The length, and the breadth, and the height of it are equal – According to this representation, the height of the city, not of the walls (compare Rev 21:17), would be three hundred and seventy-five miles. Of course, this cannot be understood literally, and the very idea of a literal fulfillment of this shows the absurdity of that method of interpretation. The idea intended to be conveyed by this immense height would seem to be that it would contain countless numbers of inhabitants. It is true that such a structure has not existed, and that a city of such a height may seem to be out of all proportion; but we are to remember:
(a) that this is a “symbol”; and,
(b) that, considered as one mass or pile of buildings, it may not seem to be out of proportion. It is no uncommon thing that a house should be as high as it is long or broad.
The idea of vastness and of capacity is the main idea designed to be represented. The image before the mind is, that the numbers of the redeemed will be immense.
v.17] Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits,according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.
And he measured the wall thereof – In respect to its “height.” Of course, its length corresponded with the extent of the city.
An hundred and forty and four cubits – This would be, reckoning the cubit at eighteen inches, two hundred and sixteen feet.Note: 216 feet in metric: = 65.8368m This is less than the height of the walls of Babylon, which Herodotus says were three hundred and fifty feet high. See the introduction to chapter 13 of Isaiah. As the walls of a city are designed to protect it from external foes, the height mentioned here gives all proper ideas of security; and we are to conceive of the city itself as towering immensely above the walls. Its glory, therefore, would not be obscured by the wall that was thrown around it for defense.
According to the measure of a man – The measure usually employed by men. This seems to be added in order to prevent any mistake as to the size of the city. It is an “angel” who makes the measurement, and without this explanation it might perhaps be supposed that he used some measure not in common use among people, so that, after all, it would be impossible to form any definite idea of the size of the city.
That is, of the angel – That is, “which is the measure employed by the angel.” It was, indeed, an angel who measured the city, but the measure which he employed was that in common use among people.
v.18] The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass.
And the building of the wall of it – The material of which the wall was composed. This means the wall above the foundation, for that was composed of twelve rows of precious stones, Rev 21:14, Rev 21:19-20. The height of the foundation is not stated, but the entire wall above was composed of jasper.
Was of jasper – See the notes on Rev 4:3. Of course, this cannot be taken literally; and an attempt to explain all this literally would show that that method of interpreting the Apocalypse is impracticable.
And the city was pure gold – The material of which the edifices were composed.
Like unto clear glass – The word rendered “glass” in this place – ὕαλος hualos – occurs in the New Testament only here and in Rev 21:21. It means, properly, “anything transparent like water”; as, for example, any transparent stone or gem, or as rock-salt, crystal, glass (Robinson, Lexicon). Here the meaning is, that the golden city would be so bright and burnished that it would seem to be glass reflecting the sunbeams. Would the appearance of a city, as the sun is setting, when the reflection of its beams from thousands of panes of glass gives it the appearance of burnished gold, represent the idea here? If we were to suppose a city made entirely of glass, and the setting sunbeams falling on it, it might convey the idea represented here. It is certain that, as nothing could be more magnificent, so nothing could more beautifully combine the two ideas referred to here – that of “gold and glass.”
Perhaps the reflection of the sunbeams from the “Crystal Palace,” erected for the late “industrial exhibition” in London, would convey a better idea of what is intended to be represented here than anything which our world has furnished. The following description from one who was an eyewitness, drawn up by him at the time, and without any reference to this passage, and furnished at my request, will supply a better illustration of the passage before us than any description which I could give: “Seen as the morning vapors rolled around its base – its far-stretching roofs rising one above another, and its great transept, majestically arched, soaring out of the envelope of clouds – its pillars, window-bars, and pinnacles, looked literally like a castle in the air; like some palace, such as one reads of in idle tales of Arabian enchantment, having about it all the ethereal softness of a dream.
Looked at from a distance at noon, when the sunbeams came pouring upon the terraced and vaulted roof, it resembles a regal palace of silver, built for some Eastern prince; ‘when the sun at eventide sheds on its sides his parting rays, the edifice is transformed into a temple of gold and rubies;’ and in the calm hours of night, when the moon walketh in her brightness, the immense surface of glass which the building presents looks like a sea, or like throwing back, in flickering smile, the radiant glances of the queen of heaven.”
v.19] The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald,
And the foundations of the wall of the city – notes on Rev 21:14.
Were garnished – Were adorned, or decorated. That is, the foundations were composed of precious stones, giving them this highly ornamented and brilliant appearance.
The first foundation – The first “row, layer, or course.” notes on Rev 21:14.
Was jasper – See the notes on Rev 4:3.
The second, sapphire – This stone is not elsewhere mentioned in the New Testament. It is a precious stone, next in hardness to the diamond, usually of an azure or sky-blue color, but of various shades.
The third, a chalcedony – This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The stone referred to is an uncrystallized translucent variety of quartz, having a whitish color, and of a luster nearly like wax. It is found covering the sides of cavities, and is a deposit from filtrated siliceous waters. When it is arranged in “stripes,” it constitutes “agate”; and if the stripes are horizontal, it is the “onyx.” The modern “carnelian” is a variety of this. The carnelian is of a deep flesh red, or reddish white color. The name chalcedony is from “Chalcedon,” a town in Asia Minor, opposite to Byzantium, or Constantinople, where this stone was probably first known (Webster’s Dictionary).
The fourth, an emerald – See the notes on Rev 4:3. The emerald is green.
v.20] the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.
The fifth, sardonyx – This word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The “name” is derived from “Sardis,” a city in Asia Minor (notes on Rev 3:1), and ὄνυξ onux, a nail – so named, according to Pliny, from the resemblance of its color to the flesh and the nail. It is a silicious stone or gem, nearly allied to the onyx. The color is a reddish yellow, nearly orange (Webster, Dictionary).
The sixth, sardius – This word does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. It is also derived from “Sardis,” and the name was probably given to the gem because it was found there. It is a stone of a blood-red or flesh color, and is commonly known as a “carnelian.” It is the same as the sardine stone mentioned in Rev 4:3. See the notes on that place.
The seventh, chrysolite – This word does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. It is derived from χρυσὸς chrusos, “gold,” and λίθος lithos, “stone,” and means “golden stone,” and was applied by the ancients to all gems of a golden or yellow color, probably designating particularly the topaz of the moderns (Robinson, Lexicon). But in Webster’s Dictionary it is said that its prevalent color is green. It is sometimes transparent. This is the “modern” chrysolite. The ancients undoubtedly understood by the name a “yellow” gem.
The eighth, beryl – This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The beryl is a mineral of great hardness, and is of a green or bluish-green color. It is identical with the emerald, except in the color, the emerald having a purer and richer green color, proceeding from a trace of oxide of chrome. Prisms of beryl are sometimes found nearly two feet in diameter in the state of New Hampshire (Webster).
The ninth, a topaz – This word does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. The topaz is a well-known mineral, said to be so called from “Topazos,” a small island in the Arabian Gulf. It is generally of a yellowish color, and pellucid, but it is also found of greenish, bluish, or brownish shades.
The tenth, a chrysoprasus – This word χρυσόπρασος chrusoprasos does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It is derived from χρυσὸς chrusos, “gold,” and πράσον prason, “a leek,” and denotes a precious stone of greenish golden color, like a leek; that is, “apple-green passing into a grass-green” (Robinson, Lexicon). “It is a variety of quartz. It is commonly apple-green, and often extremely beautiful. It is translucent, or sometimes semi-transparent; its hardness little inferior to flint” (Webster, Dictionary).
The eleventh, a jacinth – The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It is the same word as “hyacinth” – ὑάκινθος huakinthos – and denotes properly the well-known flower of that name, usually of a deep purple or reddish blue. Here it denotes a gem of this color. It is a red variety of “zircon.” See Webster’s Dictionary under the word “hyacinth.”
The twelfth, an amethyst – This word, also, is found only in this place in the New Testament. It denotes a gem of a deep purple or violet color. The word is derived from α a, the alpha privative (“not”), and μεθύω methuō, to be intoxicated, because this gem was supposed to be an antidote against drunkenness. It is a species of quartz, and is used in jewelry.
v.21] The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
And the twelve gates – Rev 21:12.
Were twelve pearls – See the Rev 17:4 note; Mat 13:46 note.
Every several gate was of one pearl – Each gate. Of course, this is not to be understood literally. The idea is that of ornament and beauty, and nothing could give a more striking view of the magnificence of the future abode of the saints.
And the street of the city was pure gold – Was paved with gold; that is, all the vacant space that was not occupied with buildings was of pure gold. See the notes on Rev 21:18.
v.22] But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
And I saw no temple therein – No structure reared expressly for the worship of God; no particular place where he was adored. It was all temple – nothing but a temple. It was not like Jerusalem, where there was but one house reared expressly for divine worship, and to which the inhabitants repaired to praise God; it was all one great temple reared in honor of his name, and where worship ascended from every part of it. With this explanation, this passage harmonizes with what is said in Rev 2:12; Rev 7:15.
For the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it – They are present in all parts of it in their glory; they fill it with light; and the splendor of their presence may be said to be the temple. The idea here is, that it would be a holy world – all holy. No particular portion would be set apart for purposes of public worship, but in all places God would be adored, and every portion of it devoted to the purposes of religion.
v.23] The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it,Revelation 21:23 NU-Text and M-Text omit in it. for the gloryRevelation 21:23 M-Text reads the very glory. of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.
And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it – This imagery seems to be derived from Isa 9:19-20. See notes on those verses. No language could give a more striking or beautiful representation of the heavenly state than what is here employed.
For the glory of God did lighten it – By the visible splendor of his glory. See the notes on Rev 21:11. That supplied the place of the sun and the moon.
And the Lamb is the light thereof – The Son of God; the Messiah. See the Rev 5:6 note; Isa 60:19 note.
v.24] And the nations of those who are savedRevelation 21:24 NU-Text and M-Text omit of those who are saved. shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.Revelation 21:24 M-Text reads the glory and honor of the nations to Him.
And the nations of them which are saved – All the nations that are saved; or all the saved considered as nations. This imagery is doubtless derived from that in Isaiah, particularly Isa 60:3-9. See the notes on that passage.
Shall walk in the light of it – Shall enjoy its splendor, and be continually in its light.
And the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it – All that they consider as constituting their glory, treasures, crowns, scepters, robes. The idea is, that all these will be devoted to God in the future days of the church in its glory, and will be, as it were, brought and laid down at the feet of the Saviour in heaven. The language is derived, doubtless, from the description in Isa 60:3-14. Compare Isa 49:23.
v.25] Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there).
And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day – It shall be constantly open, allowing free ingress and egress to all who reside there. The language is derived from Isa 60:11. See the notes on that place. Applied to the future state of the blessed, it would seem to mean, that while this will be their permanent abode, yet that the dwellers there will not be prisoners. The universe will be open to them. They will be permitted to go forth and visit every world, and survey the works of God in all parts of his dominions.
For there shall be no night there – It shall be all day; all unclouded splendor. When, therefore, it is said that the gates should not be “shut by day,” it means that they would never be shut. When it is said that there would be no night there, it is, undoubtedly, to be taken as meaning that there would be no literal darkness, and nothing of which night is the emblem: no calamity, no sorrow, no bereavement, no darkened windows on account of the loss of friends and kindred. Compare the notes on Rev 21:4.
v.26] And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.Revelation 21:27 NU-Text and M-Text read anything profane, nor one who causes.
And they shall bring … – See the notes on Rev 21:24. That blessed world shall be made up of all that was truly valuable and pure on the earth.
v.27] But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes[a]an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
|↑1||Revelation 21:9 NU-Text and M-Text omit to me.|
|↑2||Revelation 21:9 M-Text reads I will show you the woman, the Lamb’s bride.|
|↑3||Revelation 21:10 NU-Text and M-Text omit the great and read the holy city, Jerusalem.|
|↑4||Revelation 21:14 NU-Text and M-Text read twelve names.|
|↑5||Note: 350 miles in metric: = 563270.4m or 563.2704 km|
|↑6||Note: 216 feet in metric: = 65.8368m|
|↑7||Revelation 21:23 NU-Text and M-Text omit in it.|
|↑8||Revelation 21:23 M-Text reads the very glory.|
|↑9||Revelation 21:24 NU-Text and M-Text omit of those who are saved.|
|↑10||Revelation 21:24 M-Text reads the glory and honor of the nations to Him.|
|↑11||Revelation 21:27 NU-Text and M-Text read anything profane, nor one who causes.|