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Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, [1831], at

Revelation Chapter 21


rev 21:0

The new heaven and the new earth, Rev 21:1. The new Jerusalem, Rev 21:2. God dwells with men; the happy state of his followers, Rev 21:3-7. The wretched state of the ungodly, Rev 21:8. An angel shows John the holy city, the New Jerusalem, Rev 21:9, Rev 21:10. Her light, wall, gates, and foundations, described, Rev 21:11-21. God and the Lamb are the temple and light of it, Rev 21:22, Rev 21:23. The nations and kings of the earth bring their glory and honor to it; the gates shall never be shut, nor shall any defilement enter into it, Rev 21:24-27.

Revelation 21:1

rev 21:1

A new heaven and a new earth - See the notes on Pe2 3:13 : The ancient Jews believed that God would renew the heavens and the earth at the end of seven thousand years. The general supposition they founded on Isa 65:17.

There was no more sea - The sea no more appeared than did the first heaven and earth. All was made new; and probably the new sea occupied a different position and was differently distributed, from that of the old sea.

However, with respect to these subjects as they stand in this most figurative book, I must express myself in the words of Calmet: Vouloir dire quels seront ce nouveau ciel, et cette nouvelle terre, quels seront leurs ornamens et leur qualite, c'est a mon avis la plus grande de toutes les presomptions. En general, ces manieres de parler marquent de tres grands changemens dans l'univers. "To pretend to say what is meant by this new heaven and new earth, and what are their ornaments and qualities, is in my opinion the greatest of all presumptions. In general these figures of speech point out great alternations in the universe."

Revelation 21:2

rev 21:2

And I John - The writer of this book; whether the evangelist and apostle, or John the Ephesian presbyter, has been long doubted in the Church.

New Jerusalem - See the notes on Gal 4:24-27 (note). This doubtless means the Christian Church in a state of great prosperity and purity; but some think eternal blessedness is intended.

Coming down from God - It is a maxim of the ancient Jews that both the tabernacle, and the temple, and Jerusalem itself, came down from heaven. And in Midrash Hanaalem, Sohar Gen. fol. 69, col. 271, Rab. Jeremias said, "The holy blessed God shall renew the world, and build Jerusalem, and shall cause it to descend from heaven." Their opinion is, that there is a spiritual temple, a spiritual tabernacle, and a spiritual Jerusalem; and that none of these can be destroyed, because they subsist in their spiritual representatives. See Schoettgen.

Revelation 21:3

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The tabernacle of God is with men - God, in the most especial manner, dwells among his followers, diffusing his light and life everywhere.

Revelation 21:4

rev 21:4

There shall be no more death - Because there shall be a general resurrection. And this is the inference which St Paul makes from his doctrine of a general resurrection, Co1 15:26, where he says, "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." But death cannot be destroyed by there being simply no farther death; death can only be destroyed and annihilated by a general resurrection; if there be no general resurrection, it is most evident that death will still retain his empire. Therefore, the fact that there shall be no more death assures the fact that there shall be a general resurrection; and this also is a proof that, after the resurrection, there shall be no more death. See the whole of the note on Co1 15:27.

Revelation 21:5

rev 21:5

Behold, I make all things new - As the creation of the world at the beginning was the work of God alone, so this new creation.

These words are true and faithful - Truth refers to the promise of these changes; faithfulness, to the fulfillment of these promises.

Revelation 21:6

rev 21:6

It is done - All is determined, and shall be fulfilled in due time. The great drama is finished, and what was intended is now completed; referring to the period alluded to by the angel.

I am Alpha and Omega - See on Rev 1:8 (note).

The fountain of the water of life - See on Joh 4:10 (note), Joh 4:14 (note); Joh 7:37 (note), etc.

The rabbins consider the fountain of the world to come as one of the particular blessings of a future state. In Sanhedrim, Aboth R. Nathan, c. 31, it is said, "He will show them the excellency of the fountain of the future world, that they may accurately see and consider, and say, Wo to us! what good have we lost! and our race is cut off from the face of the earth."

Revelation 21:7

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Inherit all things - Here he had no inheritance; there he shall inherit the kingdom of heaven, and be with God and Christ, and have every possible degree of blessedness.

Revelation 21:8

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But the fearful - Δειλοις· Those who, for fear of losing life or their property, either refused to receive the Christian religion, though convinced of its truth and importance; or, having received it, in times of persecution fell away, not being willing to risk their lives.

And unbelieving - Those who resist against full evidence. And sinners, και ἁμαρτωλοις, is added here by about thirty excellent MSS., and is found in the Syrian, Arabic, some of the Slavonic, and in Andreas and Arethas. On this evidence Griesbach has admitted it into the text.

The abominable - Εβδελυγμενοις· Those who are polluted with unnatural lust.

And murderers - Φονευσι· Those who take away the life of man for any cause but the murder of another, and those who hate a brother in their heart.

And whoremongers - Πορνοις· Adulterers, fornicators, whores, prostitutes, and rakes of every description.

Sorcerers - Φαρμακοις· Persons who, by drugs, philtres, fumigations, etc., pretend to produce supernatural effects, chiefly by spiritual agency.

Idolaters - Ειδωλολατραις· Those who offer any kind of worship or religious reverence to any thing but God. All image worshippers are idolaters in every sense of the word.

And all liars - Και πασι τοις ψευδεσι· Every one who speaks contrary to the truth when he knows the truth, and even he who speaks the truth with the intention to deceive; i.e., to persuade a person that a thing is different from what it really is, by telling only a part of the truth, or suppressing some circumstance which would have led the hearer to a different end to the true conclusion. All these shall have their portion, το μερος, their share, what belongs to them, their right, in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. This is the second death, from which there is no recovery.

Revelation 21:9

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The bride, the Lamb's wife - The pure and holy Christian Church.

Revelation 21:10

rev 21:10

To a great and high mountain - That, being above this city, he might see every street and lane of it.

The holy Jerusalem - See on Rev 21:2 (note).

Revelation 21:11

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Having the glory of God - Instead of the sun and moon, it has the splendor of God to enlighten it.

Unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal - Among precious stones there are some even of the same species more valuable than others: for their value is in proportion to their being free from flaws, and of a good water, i.e., a uniform and brilliant transparency. A crystal is perfectly clear, the oriental jasper is a beautiful sea-green. The stone that is here described is represented as a perfectly transparent jasper, being as unclouded as the brightest crystal, and consequently the most precious of its species. Nothing can be finer than this description: the light of this city is ever intense, equal, and splendid; but it is tinged with this green hue, in order to make it agreeable to the sight. Nothing is so friendly to the eye as blue or green; all other colors fatigue; and, if very intense, injure the eye. These are the colors of the earth and sky, on which the eye of man is to be constantly fixed. To these colors the structure of the eye is adapted; and the general appearance of the earth and the sky is adapted to this structure.

Revelation 21:12

rev 21:12

Had a wall great and high - An almighty defense.

Twelve gates - A gate for every tribe of Israel, in the vicinity of which gate that tribe dwelt; so that in coming in and going out they did not mix with each other. This description of the city is partly taken from Eze 48:30-35.

In Synopsis Sohar, p. 115, n. 27, it is said: "In the palace of the world to come there are twelve gates, each of which is inscribed with one of the twelve tribes, as that of Reuben, of Simeon, etc.: he, therefore, who is of the tribe of Reuben is received into none of the twelve gates but his own; and so of the rest."

Revelation 21:13

rev 21:13

On the east three gates - The city is here represented as standing to the four cardinal points of heaven, and presenting one side to each of these points.

Revelation 21:14

rev 21:14

The wall - had twelve foundations - Probably twelve stones, one of which served for a foundation or threshold to each gate; and on these were inscribed the names of the twelve apostles, to intimate that it was by the doctrine of the apostles that souls enter into the Church, and thence into the New Jerusalem.

Revelation 21:15

rev 21:15

Had a golden reed - Several excellent MSS. add μετρον, a measure; he had a measuring rod made of gold. This account of measuring the city seems to be copied, with variations, from Eze 40:3, etc.

Revelation 21:16

rev 21:16

The city lieth foursquare - Each side was equal, consequently the length and breadth were equal; and its height is here said to be equal to its length. It is hard to say how this should be understood. It cannot mean the height of the buildings, nor of the walls, for neither houses nor walls could be twelve thousand furlongs in height; some think this means the distance from the plain country to the place where the city stood. But what need is there of attempting to determine such measures in such a visionary representation? The quadrangular form intimates its perfection and stability, for the square figure was a figure of perfection among the Greeks; αντρ τετραγωνος, the square or cubical man, was, with them, a man of unsullied integrity, perfect in all things.

Revelation 21:17

rev 21:17

The wall - a hundred and forty and four cubits - This is twelve, the number of the apostles, multiplied by itself: for twelve times twelve make one hundred and forty-four.

The measure of a man, that is, of the angel - The cubit, so called from cubitus, the elbow, is the measure from the tip of the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, and is generally reckoned at one foot and a half, or eighteen inches; though it appears, from some measurements at the pyramids of Egypt, that the cubit was, at least in some cases, twenty-one inches.

By the cubit of a man we may here understand the ordinary cubit, and that this was the angel's cubit who appeared in the form of a man. Or suppose we understand the height of the man as being here intended, and that this was the length of the measuring rod. Now allowing this height and rod to be six feet, and that this was intended to have some kind of symbolical reference to the twelve tribes, mentioned Rev 21:12, represented by the twelve gates; and to the twelve apostles, represented by the twelve thresholds or foundations; then twenty-four, the number of the tribes and apostles, multiplied by six, make precisely the number one hundred and forty-four.

Revelation 21:18

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The building of the wall of it was of jasper - The oriental jasper is exceedingly hard, and almost indestructible. Pillars made of this stone have lasted some thousands of years, and appear to have suffered scarcely any thing from the tooth of time.

Pure gold, like unto clear glass - Does not this imply that the walls were made of some beautifully bright yellow stone, very highly polished? This description has been most injudiciously applied to heaven; and in some public discourses, for the comfort and edification of the pious, we hear of heaven with its golden walls, golden pavements, gates of pearl, etc., etc., not considering that nothing of this description was ever intended to be literally understood; and that gold and jewels can have no place in the spiritual and eternal world. But do not such descriptions as these tend to keep up a fondness for gold and ornaments? In symbols they are proper; but construed into realities, they are very improper.

The ancient Jews teach that "when Jerusalem and the temple shall be built, they will be all of precious stones, and pearls, and sapphire, and with every species of jewels." - Sepher Rasiel Haggadol, fol. 24, 1.

The same authors divide paradise into seven parts or houses; the third they describe thus: "The third house is built of gold and pure silver, and all kinds of jewels and pearls. It is very spacious, and in it all kinds of the good things, either in heaven or earth, are to be found. All kinds of precious things, perfumes, and spiritual virtues, are there planted. In the midst of it is the tree of life, the height of which is five hundred years; (i.e., it is equal in height to the journey which a man might perform in five hundred years), and under it dwell Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve patriarchs, and all that came out of Egypt, and died in the wilderness. Over these Moses and Aaron preside, and teach them the law," etc. - Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 13, 4. In the same tract, fol. 182, 1, we find these words: "Know that we have a tradition, that when the Messiah, with the collected captivity, shall come to the land of Israel, in that day the dead in Israel shall rise again; and in that day the fiery walls of the city of Jerusalem shall descend from heaven, and in that day the temple shall be builded of jewels and pearls."

Revelation 21:19

rev 21:19

The foundations of the wall - Does not this mean the foundations or thresholds of the gates? The gates represented the twelve tribes, Rev 21:12; and these foundations or thresholds, the twelve apostles, Rev 21:14. There was no entrance into the city but through those gates, and none through the gates but over these thresholds. The whole of the Mosaic dispensation was the preparation of the Gospel system: without it the Gospel would have no original; without the Gospel, it would have no reference nor proper object. Every part of the Gospel necessarily supposes the law and the prophets. They are the gates, it is the threshold; without the Gospel no person could enter through those gates. The doctrine of Christ crucified, preached by the apostles, gives a solid foundation to stand on; and we have an entrance into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, Heb 10:19, etc. And in reference to this we are said to be built on the Foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone, Eph 2:20.

The first foundation was jasper - A stone very hard, some species of which are of a sea-green color; but it is generally a bright reddish brown.

The second, sapphire - This is a stone of a fine blue color, next in hardness to the diamond.

The third, a chalcedony - A genus of the semipellucid gems, of which there are four species: -

1. A bluish white; this is the most common sort.

2. The dull milky veined; this is of little worth.

3. The brownish black; the least beautiful of all.

4. The yellow and red; the most beautiful, as it is the most valuable of all. Hitherto this has been found only in the East Indies.

The fourth, an emerald - This is of a bright green color without any mixture, and is one of the most beautiful of all the gems, The true oriental emerald as very scarce, and said to be found only in the kingdom of Cambay.

Revelation 21:20

rev 21:20

The fifth, sardonyx - The onyx is an accidental variety of the agate kind; it is of a dark horny color, in which is a plate of a bluish white, and sometimes of red. When on one or both sides of the white there happens to lie also a plate of a reddish color, the jewelers call the stone a sardonyx.

The sixth, sardius - The sardius, sardel, or sardine stone, is a precious stone of a blood-red color.

The seventh, chrysolite - The gold stone. It is of a dusky green with a cast of yellow. It is a species of the topaz.

The eighth, beryl - This is a pellucid gem of a bluish green color.

The ninth, a topaz - A pale dead green, with a mixture of yellow. It is considered by the mineralogists as a variety of the sapphire.

The tenth, a chrysoprasus - A variety of the chrysolite, called by some the yellowish green and cloudy topaz. It differs from the chrysolite only in having a bluish hue.

The eleventh, a jacinth - A precious stone of a dead red color, with a mixture of yellow. It is the same as the hyacenet or cinnamon stone.

The twelfth, an amethyst - A gem generally of a purple or violet color, composed of a strong blue and deep red.

These stones are nearly the same with those on the breastplate of the high priest, Exo 28:17, etc., and probably were intended to express the meaning of the Hebrew words there used. See the notes on Exo 28:17, etc. where these gems are particularly explained.

Revelation 21:21

rev 21:21

The twelve gates were twelve pearls - This must be merely figurative, for it is out of all the order of nature to produce a pearl large enough to make a gate to such an immense city. But St. John may refer to some relations of this nature among his countrymen, who talk much of most prodigious pearls. I shall give an example: "When Rabbi Juchanan (John) once taught that God would provide jewels and pearls, thirty cubits every way, ten of which should exceed in height twenty cubits, and would place them in the gates of Jerusalem, according to what is said Isa 54:12, I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, one of his disciples ridiculed him, saying, Where can such be found, since at present there is none so large as a pigeon's egg? Afterwards, being at sea in a ship, he saw the ministering angels cutting gems and pearls; and he asked them for what purpose they were preparing those. They answered, to place them in the gates of Jerusalem. On his return he found Rabbi Juchanan teaching as usual; to whom he said, Explain, master, what I have seen. He answered, Thou knave, unless thou hadst seen, thou wouldst not have believed; wilt thou not receive the saying of the wise men? At that moment he fixed his eyes upon him, and he was reduced into a heap of bones." - Bava bathra, fol. 77, 1, and Sanhedrim, fol. 100, 1, page 393. Edit. Cocceii. See Schoettgen.

Revelation 21:22

rev 21:22

I saw no temple - There was no need of a temple where God and the Lamb were manifestly present.

Revelation 21:23

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No need of the sun - This is also one of the traditions of the ancient Jews, that "in the world to come the Israelites shall have no need of the sun by day, nor the moon by night." - Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 7, 3. God's light shines in this city, and in the Lamb that light is concentrated, and from him everywhere diffused.

Revelation 21:24

rev 21:24

The nations of them which are saved - This is an illusion to the promise that the Gentiles should bring their riches, glory, and excellence, to the temple at Jerusalem, after it should be rebuilt. See Rev 21:26.

Revelation 21:25

rev 21:25

The gates of it shall not be shut at all - The Christian Church shall ever stand open to receive sinners of all sorts, degrees, and nations.

There shall be no night there - No more idolatry, no intellectual darkness; the Scriptures shall be everywhere read, the pure word everywhere preached, and the Spirit of God shall shine and work in every heart.

Revelation 21:26

rev 21:26

The glory and honor of the nations into it - Still alluding to the declarations of the prophets, (see the passages in the margin, Rev 21:24, etc.), that the Gentiles would be led to contribute to the riches and glory of the temple by their gifts, etc.

Revelation 21:27

rev 21:27

There shall in nowise enter into it any thing that defileth - See Isa 35:8; Isa 52:1. Neither an impure person - he who turns the grace of God into lasciviousness, nor a liar - he that holds and propagates false doctrines.

But they which are written - The acknowledged persevering members of the true Church of Christ shall enter into heaven, and only those who are saved from their sins shall have a place in the Church militant.

All Christians are bound by their baptism to renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh; to keep God's holy word and commandments; and to walk in the same all the days of their life. This is the generation of them that seek thy face, O God of Jacob! Reader, art thou of this number? Or art thou expecting an eternal glory while living in sin? If so, thou wilt be fearfully disappointed. Presuming on the mercy of God is as ruinous as despairing of his grace. Where God gives power both to will and to do, the individual should work out his salvation with fear and trembling.

Next: Revelation Chapter 22