Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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APOCALYPSE - Chapter 21

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Apocalypse 21

Supplemental Commentary:

VII.  THE CONSUMMATION  19, 11 -- 22, 5 (continued)

21, 1-4:  New Heaven and New Earth.  A renewal of all things had long been the hope of Israel.  The prophets sanctioned it (Isa. 65, 17), Christ spoke of it (Matt. 19, 28), Paul mentioned it (Rom. 8, 19).  The fulfillment of this hope may seem to tarry (1 Thess. 5, 2; 2 Pet. 3, 4) but a new heaven and a new earth will surely come (2 Pet. 3, 13).  The sea: the beast's place of origin.  All old and corrupt elements will be swept away.  The heaven and earth will not be annihilated, but renovated.  New Jerusalem: the Church of Christ; the Church in heaven is the same as the Church on earth, and we are citizens of heaven.  As a bride: she is united by a sacred and indissoluble bond.  She is the dwelling place of the elect, and there God dwells with them.  The words "as their God" at the end of 3 are not found in the best Greek manuscripts.

21, 5-8:  The Promise.  He who was sitting: it is God who speaks and affirms His omnipotence, but it is the voice of God the Son.  These words: the promises which at once follow.  To him who thirsts: with an effective desire.  He who overcomes: who is victorious in the struggle with evil.  The cowardly: who by reason of their cowardice go down in the struggle and become murderers, etc.  The sins here enumerated were those of the Roman Empire.

21, 9-21:  The Heavenly Jerusalem.    9 f.  Its origin.  One of the seven angels: probably he of 19, 9.  The bride, the spouse: the union of these terms expresses the virginal and perpetual purity of the mystic Spouse.  She is the antithesis of the harlot, Babylon.  A  mountain: the elevation of spirit necessary for view the Church.  Coming down, etc.: the Church come from God and draws its glory from Him.

11-21.  The description of the city.  The glory of God: it possesses the presence of God and shows forth His brightness.  The description, which follows to 23, relies on Ezech. 48, 30-35.  There are gates in the wall opening to the four quarters of the earth so that people from every direction may enter it.  The angels guarding the gates are, perhaps, an allusion to Isa. 62, 6.  If by the names written on the gates St. John intends the twelve tribes of the historical Israel, then by the twelve Apostles of 14 he points out the union of the Old and New Covenants.  The names of the Apostles are written on the foundation stones.  Perhaps the twelve gates rest on these stones.  Thus even though the Church of the Old and New Covenants be represented, the work of the Apostles is especially prominent: they are the foundation on which the spiritual Jerusalem rests.  The catholicity and apostolicity of the Church are indicated in these verses.

The measurement of the city.  A golden reed: in keeping with the dignity of the angel and the splendor of the city.  Cf. Ezech. 40-42.  Twelve thousand stadia: about nine hundred miles.  It is uncertain whether this refers to one side or to the sum of its sides.  In any case the city is of tremendous size, indicating the figures are to be taken as symbolical.  A hundred and forty-four cubits: about two hundred and thirty feet.  Hence the wall is out of proportion to the dimensions of the city; but the wall is not important in such a city of peace.  Angel's measure: implying its accuracy.

The material of the wall.  Each stone, perhaps, had for St. John a symbolical meaning, but we have lost the key to these symbols.  Perhaps they refer to the diversity of gifts and graces received by the elect who dwell in the city.  The general intention of the description is to convey an impression of the great beauty of the Spouse, who is without "spot or wrinkle or blemish" (Eph. 5, 27).

21, 22-27:  God and the Lamb Give It Light.  No temple: the entire city has become the temple of God and the Lamb.  There are no altars, for the time of intercession has passed. Note that God and the Lamb are equal, a new affirmation of the divinity of Christ.  Its gates shall not be shut: an allusion to the custom of closing the gates of a city at night.  This implies the universality of the Church.  Nothing unclean will enter her gates: implying her sanctity.  There is here a mingling of references to the Church Militant and Triumphant; but the scene embraces the entire future of the Church, Militant and Triumphant.

Confraternity Bible:

New Heaven and New Earth  1* And I saw a new heaven and a new earth.  For the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and the sea is no more.  2 And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"Behold the dwelling of God with men, and he will dwell with them. 

And they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 

4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  And death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more,

For the former things have passed away."
The Promise 5 And he who was sitting on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new!"  And he said, "Write, for these words are trustworthy and true."  6 And he said to me,
"It is done! 

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. 

To him who thirsts I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely. 

7 He who overcomes shall possess these things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. 

8 But as for the cowardly and unbelieving, and abominable and murderers, and fornicators and sorcerers, and idolaters and all liars,

Their portion shall be in the pool that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
The Heavenly Jerusalem  9 And there came one of the seven angels who had the bowls full of the seven last plagues; and he spoke with me, saying, "Come, I will show thee the bride, the spouse of the Lamb."  10 And he took me up in spirit to a mountain, great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God.  Its light was like to a precious stone, as it were a jasper-stone, clear as crystal.  12 And it had a wall great and high with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.  13 On the east are three gates, and on the north three gates, and on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.  14 And the wall of the city has twelve foundation stones, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 And he who spoke with me had a measure, a golden reed, to measure the city and the gates thereof and the wall.  16* And the city stands foursquare, and its length is as great as its breadth; and he measured the city with the reed, to twelve thousand stadia: the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.  17* And he measured its wall, of a hundred and forty-four cubits, man's measure, that is, angel's measure.  18 And the material of its wall was jasper; but the city itself was pure gold, like pure glass.  19 And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every precious stone.  The first foundation, jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, agate; the fourth, emerald; 20 the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; 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; that is, each gate was of a single pearl.  And the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.

God and the Lamb Give It Light  22 And I saw no temple therein.  For the Lord God almighty and the Lamb are the temple thereof.  23 And the city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine upon it.  For the glory of God lights it up, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof.  24 And the nations shall walk by the light thereof; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it.  25 And its gates shall not be shut by day; for there shall be no night there.  26 And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.  27 And there shall not enter into it anything undefiled, nor he who practises abomination and falsehood, but those only who are written in the book of life of the Lamb.


1: New: there are two words that are translated "new" in our English versions.  One refers to time: the other to quality.  The quality of the earth will be changed but not the substance; there will be some resemblance between the old and the new.  Cf. Rom. 8, 19.

16: Foursquare: the length and breadth are equal; the height is equal to the length and breadth.  This is a symbol of perfect symmetry, and signifies the grandeur of the city.

17: Man's measure . . . angel's measure: the measure is the measure of a man but the reed is handled by an angel; the measure is true for man and true for angels.