Pastor Scott Andrews | June 11, 2023
The first eleven chapters of Genesis form not only the introduction to the book of Genesis, but it also lays the groundwork for Genesis 12 to Revelation 22. It demonstrates the faithlessness of man, which allows us to see the faithfulness of God in the rest of the Bible. Indeed, some suggest Genesis 1-11 covers as much time as the rest of the Bible combined. Again, they show the consistent failures of humanity and the need for God to step in to redeem us. If He didn’t do that, there would be no hope. Humankind, left to itself, only makes a mess of things.
In those first 11 chapters, there are four significant events: Creation, followed by the Fall; the Flood, and the Tower of Babel – three world-defining failures. Now, there is a pattern in these chapters: First, God created the world, placing Adam and Eve in a perfect environment in chapters 1 and 2. We talked about that a couple weeks ago. This was followed by the Fall, bringing God’s judgment of driving them from the garden and cursing the world in chapter 3.
Some genealogies are given in chapters 4-5, and then we see a description of things getting so bad – every inclination of man’s heart was evil all the time – that God destroys the earth with a flood, starting over, as it were, with one family – Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. This is all recorded in chapters 6-9. But it was another start – a fresh start. We have some more genealogies given in chapter 10 tracing the lines of the sons of Noah. Then we get to chapter 11, where we see the failure of humanity yet again and God’s consequent judgment at the Tower of Babel. Humankind, left to itself, fails miserably. A genealogy follows, tracing Shem’s line to Abraham. It is here, you see, in Genesis 12, that God steps in and says, since you can’t do it, I will. I will step into the pages of human history to bring salvation.
The only bright spots in those first 11 chapters after the Fall are in Genesis 3:15, where God promised to redeem humanity through the seed of the woman, chapter 5 where Enoch walked with God, and chapter 6 where Noah did the same. And so, by the time we get to chapter 12, God begins to fulfill the promise of Genesis 3 through the seed of the woman – through Abraham – and spends the rest of redemptive history bringing that all about. To be sure, redemption would not be found in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, Saul, David, Solomon or any of the kings of Israel or the prophets. All of those, descendants of Abraham, but not the descendant. Redemption culminates in the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the Son of David, in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a wonderful, age-long story.
But let’s look briefly at the Tower of Babel. As one big family, the whole world, descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth, had one language. They migrated eastward to the plain of Shinar, where they settled. It is there they began to build the city which would become known as Babylon.
Now if you read the story, the primary purpose of the people at Babylon was to make a great name for themselves apart from God, and so, He judges them. When we get to chapter 12, God is going to make a great name of Abraham – only He’ll do it His way.
Well, as I said, they traveled to Shinar, and decided to build a city, which was fine. We are given a little construction information – they build with bricks instead of stone and use tar for mortar. But from there, they decide to build a tower within the city that reaches to the heavens. That’s interesting – what is that about? They decide to take earth to heaven, if you will, doing it their way.
Now, this tower was probably a ziggurat – a temple of successive blocks, square at the bottom and built to a small shrine at the top. Again, their desire was to make a name for themselves, and further, so they would not be scattered over the face of the earth. Interestingly, they failed in both objectives.
And why did they fail? Because God thwarted their plans. While they said, “Come, let us” – let us do it our way, God also said, “Come, let us” – you’ll do it My way. And He introduces His way in the next chapter, through Abraham, and the fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3. Now, what was wrong with what they were doing? I mean, inventing their own religion and trying to reach heaven, to reach God, seems like a good thing, right? What were the problems?
- They were arrogant. Notice they said, come let us. There was no divine direction to reach God or worship Him this way. He will only be worshiped His way.
- They thought they could reach heaven by their own efforts. Some things never change. That’s ultimately what every manmade religion is – an attempt to reach God their way.
- They wanted to make a name for themselves, apart from God’s plan. We’ve always wanted to make it about us, rather than about God.
- They didn’t want to be scattered over the face of the earth, which was part of God’s original command to Adam and later to Noah, to fill the earth and subdue it.
From this point on in biblical history, Babylon is synonymous with godless idolatry, to the very end of time, right? We’ve seen that. It is severely judged, this Babylon representative of all civilization apart from God, in the book of Revelation. Interestingly, Revelation 18 says the sins of Babylon reach heaven. While godless man wanted to reach heaven, ultimately, only their sins do.
What about God’s response? What did He mean in verse 6 when He said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.”? It appears as if He is concerned they will be successful in their attempts. Which is exactly right, by the way. They would be successful in making a name for themselves. They would be successful in creating their own religion apart from Him. If the human race remained united in their proud, arrogant attempts to take its destiny into its own hands, there would be no limit to their rebellion. And so God, in an act of mercy, confounded their language and scattered them.
Well, we know there is coming a time when Babel will be reversed. We see a glimpse of that in Acts 2 when on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the church, and everyone gathered for the feast heard in their own language the wonders of God being proclaimed by the Spirit-baptized disciples. All of a sudden, as if in one language, they heard not their own glory, but God’s glory.
But also, in Revelation 7, we read these words, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” Do you see? Scattered people from all over the planet will worship God His way, having been redeemed God’s way.
Why share all that with you this morning? Well, first, to show how all of this has been one grand, unfolding drama of redemption. We are at the end of the book and the end of time, and everything has unfolded according to plan. And second, so you know that Revelation 21 and 22 are the culmination of the drama – when God Himself, per divine plan, will dwell with His people. It’s been His plan since the beginning of time – way back in the Garden – chapter 22 will show a return to the Garden.
And third, to remind us there is only one way to reach God – and it is not through some half-baked plan of self-redemption, building paltry temples of our own, attempting to reach up to God. It will only be by God reaching down to us – redeeming us, purifying a people for Himself, and then coming down to dwell with us, uniting heaven and earth. It’s an incredible, coherent, God-glorifying story.
You see, after Satan is cast into the lake of fire, after the great white throne judgment, last week we saw the new heaven and the new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth passed away. The holy city, the new Jerusalem came down out of heaven from God, to earth – as a bride adorned for her husband. We are seeing at the end of time the union of heaven and earth.
A loud voice came from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be among them.” He says it three times, because this is the culmination of the plan of the ages. This is the decree of heaven – again, not some contemptible attempt on the part of man to reach God, but God uniting heaven and earth to dwell with us – through the God-glorifying work of His Son. That, and that alone, is the way it will be done.
The eschaton, the eternal state, is upon us. Those who overcome, who conquer, which we have found is done through the blood of the Lamb, will inherit all the promises of God. They will be the ones who dwell with God in the new heaven and the new earth, in the holy city, the new Jerusalem, now come down to man. The cowards and the unbelieving will find their place in the lake of fire. All this brings us to our text today, when John gives an indescribable description of the new Jerusalem. And I don’t want you to miss it – at its center is the glory of God. This whole text screams the glory of God. Read it with me – Revelation 21:9-27.
Now, when you first read that grand description, it’s overwhelming, and it’s meant to be. But I hope you noticed the centrality of the glory of God and the Lamb. Remember, when we started this book, I told you it was titled by its author, the Revelation of Jesus Christ. While we can become sidetracked figuring out images and timelines and numbers, the book reveals Jesus to us. The word Lamb appears 29 times in this book, but 7 times in the last two chapters. And He will be unmistakably united with God, the Almighty, in His glory. Again, it’s a bit overwhelming, but we’ll follow this outline:
- The Angelic Guide (9-10)
- The Appearance of the City (11-21) – what it looks like
- The Conditions in the City (22-27) – what it will be like
By the way, much of John’s imagery can also be found in Isaiah 60 and Ezekiel 40-48. We’re told in verse 9 that one of the seven angels who had had one of the seven bowls of the plagues came to John and said, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” That is an intentional contrast with chapter 17:1, which reads, “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters.’” I will show you the judgment of Babylon. And of course, we saw the judgment of Babylon in chapters 17 and 18.
Some suggest this is the same angel who now tells John to come and see. Maybe, but the point is, there are two women with two significantly different outcomes. The first is Babylon who is judged and cast into the lake of fire. The second is the wife of the Lamb, a beautiful city, adorned for her husband. One is a harlot; one is a bride. An intentional contrast.
It continues in the next verse. Verse 10 says, “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” [mountaintops – Mt. Sinai, the Transfiguration, the Ascension] Back in chapter 17, we read, “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness [a wasteland]; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names…The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the uncleans things of her immorality.”
Here’s the point. You can choose to live in Babylon, and partake of her abominations and immoralities, and end up in the lake of fire, or you can live in the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, as part of the bride of Christ. It’s a tale of two cities. John goes on to describe the city in verses 11-21. She is decked out in unbelievable array. Look at the description:
We see her beauty in verse 11 – starting with, she reflects the glory of God. Now remember, last week we suggested the New Jerusalem, in apocalyptic imagery – is both the bride – that is, God’s people, believers of all time as we’ll see in the description, and the place in which she lives. It’s both: people and place. But notice, she reflects the glory of God – her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. Jasper – hmm, we’ve seen that before, and we’ll see it several times in the rest of the chapter. Back in chapter 4, we read,
1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.”
2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.
3 And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.
How would you describe the indescribable, the appearance of God? To John, He looked like a jasper stone and a sardius. And so now in Revelation 21, the city looks like jasper, because it reflects the glory of God. A jasper stone was typically opaque with a yellow tint. But here, we see they are crystal-clear – suggesting to some that it may actually be a brilliant diamond. We’ll come back to the crystal-clear jasper in a moment.
In verses 12-14, we get the description of the walls and the foundation. We’re told the city had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels. Ancient cities had walls built around them for protection, with usually a limited number of gates. For example, the old Jerusalem only had five gates.
Further, the gates would be closed at night, again, for protection, usually with watchmen at the gates. Here, those watchmen are angels. Now, we are in the new heaven and new earth, and all evil has been banished. All God’s enemies and therefore our enemies have been cast into the lake of fire. In fact, we will find in a moment the gates are never closed – no need for them to be closed because there is no enemy outside the gates. But the high walls, the gates, the angels simply speak of safety and security and peace.
We’re told the 12 gates are evenly divided on all four sides of the city – three on each side. Every point of the compass. The point being, equal and free access to the city from every direction for all people.
Notice, the gates also had names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. That’s interesting. Then in verse 14, we find the city had 12 foundation stones, also named, which are the twelve apostles of the Lamb. Notice, the twelve sons of Israel aren’t named, nor are the twelve apostles named. That’s not the point. The number 12 speaks of perfection in this book – it’s not for us to decide which 12 tribes are represented, and which name took the place of Judas. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that those represented are perfectly represented – and they represent the chosen people of God from both the Old and New Testaments – Israel and the church, now comprised of one city in the new heaven and the new earth, the New Jerusalem. Both people of God, born again by the Spirit of God, and followers of the Lamb. By the way, Ephesians 2:20 also says the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone. +
Which brings us to the measurements of the massive city in verses 15-17. The angel who spoke with John had a gold measuring rod to measure the golden city and its gates and its walls. We’re told the city was laid out in a square – actually, a cube, because the width and the length and the height are the same. My translation says it was 1500 miles – which is like from here to Colorado Springs – which makes this a big city. But actually, it was 12,000 stadia, and a stadia was about 600 feet, so 1500 miles. But if we don’t read it as stadia, we miss the number 12. It is 12 times 10 cubed. It may actually be this size – which is the distance from Spain to the Euphrates, the farthest width of the Roman Empire. But it may also be speaking a perfect, massive number.
But don’t miss this – it is a perfect cube. What else was a perfect cube? I Kings 6 tells us the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies where the ark of the covenant was which represented the presence of God, was 20x20x20 – a perfect cube. And we remember the cloud descended there, representing the Shekinah glory of God. Now, God dwelling with His people beholding the glory of God, the New Jerusalem is a perfect cube. The city is itself a holy temple.
Notice also verse 17 says the walls’ width was 72 yards – my translation – but better, 144 cubits, and a cubit is about 18 inches. Again, the width of the wall is 12 squared – everything about this speaks of perfection.
Which brings us to the composition of the walls, foundation and gates in verses 18-21. It’s all rather stunning. Now remember, when John first saw the city descending, he would have noticed the walls first, which are like crystal-clear jasper. That’s what verse 18 says, and the city was pure gold, notice, like clear glass. Now, we know – we sing about it – we are going to walk on streets of gold. And we remember Solomon overlaid the inside of the temple with gold. But this is pure gold and jasper – both seemingly crystal clear or like clear glass. What’s the point? God Himself and the Lamb are in the city – and there will be nothing that will shield their glory. Their glory will be seen unhindered by all is the idea.
He then gives us the foundation stones of the city – 12 precious stones. We don’t know if they are 12 layers of stones or if there is a segment between each of the 12 gates. I won’t take the time to reread them, but most agree these stones correspond to the 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel that the high priest wore on his ephod. And the high priest wore them as a symbolic representation of bearing them before God. So here, the 12 foundation stones are bearing God’s people before the presence of God.
Now, in verse 21, we aren’t given the size of the gates, but we are told they are made up of a single pearl. By the way, this is where we get the idea of the pearly gates. As I’ve told you before, many considered the pearl to be the most precious of gems at this time. A single pearl of this enormous size comprising each gate. Is it symbolic are literal? You decide. But it is amazing, stunning imagery.
Bringing us to our third point – the Conditions of the City in verses 22-27. And here we actually find the absence of several things you would expect to see in a city of that time. Here they are, or aren’t:
- No Temple (22)
- No Sun or Moon (23-24)
- No Night or Closed Gates (25-26)
- No Unclean Thing (27)
- No Sinners (27)
In verse 22, John says, I saw no temple in the city. Listen, every ancient city had temple to its god or gods, and even in Jerusalem, the center of the city was on the temple mount – the Temple. It was the place of sacrifice and worship. How can there be no temple there? We know, don’t we? There is no need for any sacrifice and worship will be personal and eternal. Further, John says the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. We will worship Him in person.
Think about it. What was the purpose of the temple, of any temple? To house God. To be sure, God is omnipresent, but His special presence was in the Holy of Holies. It was there the Israelites would go to offer sacrifices and to worship. It was there the high priest would go to offer the annual sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. But now, the New Jerusalem is fashioned like the Holy of Holies, housing the Lord God, the Almighty and the Lamb. So in that sense, they are the temple. We won’t need one – He will be manifestly present.
Second, their will be no sun or moon – which of course reflects the light of the sun – because the glory of God will illumine the city, and the Lamb will be its lamp. Again, we notice the city will be crystal clear, allowing for the glory of God to permeate every corner of the city. And so, the nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth – those who declared their allegiance to the Lamb rather than the beast – will bring their glory into it. Their glory will redound to the God of all glory.
Third, there is no night, and so therefore, no closed gates – they will always be open. Equal and open access to the city. And they – all people, since there are no evil unbelievers left – will bring the glory and honor of the nations into it, again, to redound to the One to whom all glory is due.
Fourth and fifth, there will be no unclean thing there – the old heaven and old earth have passed away. And no one who practices any abomination or lying – any evil – shall come into the city, as they have been thrown into the lake of fire. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. It has been called the book of life – but back in chapter 13, it was called the book of life of the Lamb. And this book of the revelation of Jesus Christ has made it clear that our names are written there by the work of the Lamb as He had been slain – and our robes are washed white by His blood. Only those who confess faith in Jesus Christ and His work will find their names written in the book of life, and enter the pearly gates, walk on streets of gold, and live in the glorious presence of God.
Because, you see, God will bring heaven to earth, and He will dwell with us forever in this stunning city that He has been preparing for us.