Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names that are the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites: on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The angel who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.. The city has four equal sides, its length the same as its width, and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, one hundred forty-four cubits by human measurement, which the angel was using. The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass.
We come to the identity of the bride that has been prepared. ‘In the spirit’ is the fourth time we read this phrase in the book of Revelation. First time is in the opening chapter that sets the whole book in motion: a vision of the resurrected, glorified Jesus… second time is a big overview vision of the throne room of God, a vision that stands in total contrast to the throne of Caesar with his 24 advisors around his throne; third time is a vision of Babylon and her judgement… and here is the final ‘in the Spirit’ marker. Jesus – throne – the battle and opposition – and the eschaton.
Twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve apostles, twelve tribes, twelve foundations. Twelve… always symbolising government, understood not as ruling over in a dominion sense but being the means through which the ‘kingdom’ of God comes. ‘Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ is now fully fulfilled.
Two remarkable aspects are noted about the ‘size’ of the city. It is cubic – length, breadth and height are the same. That points us back to the only other shape in Scripture that is cubic – the very holy of holies; and the size is the size of the then known world – more or less the size of the oikoumene, the Imperial kingdom that was offered to Jesus by the ‘devil’. The Temple in Jerusalem was a compromise… courts for women, for Gentiles, and ultimately a ‘holy of holies’ marked out as sacred. All exposed (exploded) by the death of Jesus, with a curtain ripped in two. And here the ultimate – no more courts, only a holy of holies, the presence of God in fullness throughout all of creation. Truly a parousia (an appearing) of God, a making visible of the reality that is hidden. Little wonder we will read ‘I saw no Temple’ in the city!
The measurement used was of gold – symbolic of wealth that comes from creation – and the measurement was both a human and an angelic one (I think a better translation would be ‘by human measurement, which is also an angel measurement). Angels and humans at last in harmony; both servants of God working together. We tend either to ignore the angelic, or we colonise their activity. Imagine if both are free to work their side of the partnership!
The one story of Scripture comes together. The foundations from the apostolic work; the gates from the call of the twelve tribes. Gates that protect, that allow for prosperity and release; foundations that are for the total transformation of the world. Again we come to see that the work of the kingdom is not to be reduced to ‘hands up for salvation’ and then we ‘plant a church’ but to work for the total transformation of the world, with a focus on the foundations.