Reflecting the Glory of God in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-14)

It is one of the angels of judgment who accompanies John on this vision to witness the New Jerusalem. (This is a characteristic of what is known as apocalyptic literature, by the way, which is also full of symbolism. Those who doubt the symbolism and the symbolic nature of the Book of Revelation must find some way to discount the many features of apocalyptic literature which are so prevalent in Revelation.)

This angel both pours out the wrath of God and brings John to the revelation of God’s truth. This reminds one of God’s judgment and grace. He has revealed truth by his grace and man’s rejection brought judgment. Now that God’s judgment is done. His grace is revealed once more. Those who come to terms with God’s judgment will see God in his grace. Those who reject God’s grace will only see his judgment.

This angel, however, is not an interpretive angel, he simply takes John there so he can see the vision and John interprets it for himself. The angel leads him to a great high mountain, presumably Mount Zion (14:1), the mountain on which the city comes to rest.

The language of v. 10 is strikingly similar to Ezek. 40:2 so much so that John must have been thinking of Ezekiel’s words. This is a prophetic vision, not just in its predictive sense, but in its revelatory sense. John is revealing the wondrous truth of God to us. This is truth is something we could not know on our own, would not know apart from God’s revelation, and will not be able to comprehend fully until we see it fulfilled before our very eyes.

Notice that the description of the city in v. 11 is the same as that of the one who sits on the throne in 4:3. The most striking thing about this city is that it reflects the Glory of God. This city is both a city and a symbol. As a symbol it represents the people of God, who also are to reflect the glory of God.

Those who will live in this city are those who reflect the glory of the God who gives his glory to it. We reflect God’s glory primarily by living in holiness and obedience. Holiness is essential because it is the premier attribute by which God distinguishes himself from everything and everyone else. Obedience is vital because it demonstrates respect for the law of God which is an extension of God’s own character. This is why the description here is so important.

The foundations are linked to the twelve tribes of Israel, through whom God brought the one who is the “Way” into the city, and the gates are linked to the apostles, through whose preaching one enters into the kingdom. Throughout this description one is reminded of the words of Paul who said (Eph. 2:20) that the church is built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles. The one who seeks to reflect God’s glory is the one who knows God as he has revealed himself through the prophets and apostles and seeks to live out a reflection of God’s own holiness and character.

The angels are not angels that guard but are probably linked to the seven churches in chapters 2-3. This further connection to the church reminds us of the importance of relating to God in community and the importance of encouraging one another and accepting exhortation and rebuke from one another so that we enter into this city which has been prepared for us.

Though we do not perfectly reflect the glory of God, God is making us fit to reflect his glory for eternity. More on that to come.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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