The question before us is to determine whether this is a physical city or whether it's a symbolic description of some spiritual truth. Its walls of 12,000 furlongs in length, breath and height present its awesome magnitude. It would comprise an area of some 2,250,000 square miles, or about two-thirds of the land area of the United States of America. Its walls towering 7,500 times as high as the Empire State building, or three times as high as the apogee of the astronauts circling the earth, denotes an incredible height. These walls are described as being composed of precious stones and are only 144 cubits thick, or about 216 feet. From a literal standpoint, this would defy some principles in engineering. The beautiful symmetry in all creation suggests that God operates within the confines of His own fixed laws. Again, we ask whether this is a literal city, as our millennial friends proclaim, or is there a more Scriptural solution to its meaning and interpretation? The Bible doesn't leave us in doubt!
Attention is called once more to verse 9, where the angel took the viewer in the Spirit to come and behold the Bride, the Lamb's wife. Christ isn't married to a city, but His bride is the church composed of the redeemed of all ages. This removes all doubt and speculation about what's symbolized. Notice the beautiful harmony that its dimensions portray. Twelve is the Bible number used to convey unity and completeness. Here we have walls of 12,000 furlongs in length, breath and height. Twelve-thousand fold indicates the ultimate degree of perfection. The thickness of 144 cubits is twelve times twelve, again testifying to its unity. The fact that the gates and foundations bear the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of the Lamb, (twelve of each) harmonizes with the words of Paul concerning the structure of the church in Ephesians 2:20, "And are builded on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone." The cornerstone here is more properly rendered the "keystone." It also signifies the basic untity between the law and the gospel.
Jesus said of Himself, "I am the door," (John 10:7). The twelve gates (perfect means of entrance) to the City of God are of pearl. The pearl is the only gem that man can't improve. It's perfect in its natural state, being the product of a living creature, the oyster. No man can improve on God's plan of salvation. Christ is the exclusive perfect mediator and entrance. The walls on the other hand are of percious stones. In their original state these gems are of little value. They must be mined from the earth and their potential value is realized only after a skilled craftsman changes them, cuts them, and polishes them until they sparkle and dazzle in the light. In like manner, God lifts sinners from the miry clay of sin. They're cleansed and filled with the Spirit of God until they too reflect the transforming light of the Son of God. Peter put this truth in these words, "Ye also as lively (that is living) stones are built up a spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:5a). Thus the towering iridescent walls symbolize the ultimate in peace, security and perfection of the redeemed. The fact that there's no sun or moon or darkness, further demonstrates its symbolism. There's no temple there! God's dwelling in His people (1 Cor. 6:19). God has delivered us from darkness into His kingdom of light, and He's our light. Jesus Christ is the Son of Righteousness.
The fact that the Bride of Christ comes down from God out of heaven is significant. Man would reverse the order if he could. The plan of salvation didn't originate in the mind of man, but rather came from the loving heart of God. It was not discovered by the saints, but was delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Salvation's not a history of man's struggle upward toward heaven to please God, but on the contrary, it's the record of God condescending to reach down to lift man. Thus the Bride of Christ, typified as the "holy" city, originated in the heart of God and descended to man as a gift from God.
There's nothing mysterious or fanciful about the new Jerusalem. It's not "a golden ghetto" poised in space. It's not a high jewel-walled holy prison. It's not a "holy it" at all. It's something better, namely the holy Bride of Christ, revealed in all her glory and basking in the sunshine of God's love, sparkling and reflecting the manifold wonders of the beauty of holiness, protected by God's omnipotent power, and the recipient of God's abundant grace.
This's the city Abraham sought when he testified that "He looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker (architect ) is God. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for them a city" (Hebrews 11:10 and 16). This is further substantiated as the true interpretation by the description given in Hebrews 12:22 and 23a. "But ye are come unto Mount Zion (the high mountain of Revelation 21) and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven." Thus the New Jerusalem is unmistakably identified as the heavenly Jerusalem, the church of the firstborn. Abrahan saw it by faith, but John saw it being fulfilled!
Confirmation of the correctness of this interpretation is abundant and convincing. Paul devotes almost all of the first four chapters of Galatians in support of this conclusion. In the fourth chapter he resorts to employing Ishmael and Isaac in an allegory, and comparing them with the two covenants. Ishmael represents the natural Israel while the spiritusl Israel is represented by Isaac, which he equates with the church.
His judgment of the old covenant is summed up in verse 25, "For this Agar, (that is Hagar) is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answered to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children." It seems strange that this natural Jerusalem is the one the Dispensationalists are so eager to see restored. But even if that should happen, it wouldn't fulfill prophecy, for the Bible doesn't say that Israel shall be restored as a nation, but rather that it shall never cease from being a nation" (Jeremiah 31:36). The Israel of God, that holy nation of believers under the new Covenant which is described in 1 Peter 2:9 has not ceased from being a nation, and thus it's the only Israel that can fulfill prophecy.
Paul clinches his argument by saying "But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all" (v 26). When is a city a mother? How can the new Jerusalem be the mother of us all? It's simple when we let the Bible explain this mystery. Its answer is both clear and final for it removes all doubt.
Support for the correctness of this interpretation is supplied by Isaiah 66. Here the prophet peered down the centuries into the future and portrayed a strange miraculous phenomenon that couldn't be accounted for by the laws of nature. Let's quote the passage in full: "A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the Lord that rendereth recompense to His enemies. Before she travailed she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child. Who hath heard of such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed she brought forth her children" (Isaiah 66:6-8).
It's evident that Isaiah was completely baffled by the revelation imparted to him by the inspiration fo the Holy Spirit. We hasten to the Day of Pentecost for the fulfillment. There we see Peter delivering his great sermon about the resurrected Lord in which he proclaimed Him as Lord and Christ. Conviction seized the multitude and they pleaded for mercy. They repented and believed and 3,000 souls were added to the church that very day. A nation was born at once. "When Zion travailed she brought forth her children." A few days later the miracle was repeated again and again until the believers were referred to as "the multitude." Later Cornelius became interested and embraced the faith and Christianity became the gospel to the whole world. Jews and Gentiles became one fellowship in Christ. Prophecy and fulfillment harmonized in one glorious theme of universal redemption. Nothing could symbolize this better than a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God, the church of the firstborn.
The reason God used this city to symbolize His Bride is evident. It's heavenly in origin. It's holy because it represents people who are cleansed and made whole by the blood of Christ. Holiness is a characteristic of persons rather than things, such as gold or jewels. Furthermore, this city demonstrates the unfolding of God's divine purpose and his eternal plan which incorporates the twelve tribes of Israel conjoined with the twelve apostles of the lamb. This reveals God's means of spanning the centuries from the beginning of His redemptive plan until the consummation of all ages to come, and how God is at work molding the church on the anvil of faith. It's the divine product which is fashioned in time, but which will endure througout eternity.
Although the Bride, the New Jerusalem, is compared with the most costly and precious things on earth, it's really worth far more, for Peter says we were not redeemed by these corruptible things, as silver and gold, but by the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet 1:18 and 19). Thus the church was born out of God's infinite love and man's ultimate need. It's foundations are its apostles and prophets. Its jewels are its martyrs and its heroes of faith. Its gold is the work of the divine refiner who purges the dross until His image is reflected in the crucible. The entire structure glorifies the God who brought it into being. Some glorious day the struggle will be over. Eternity will dawn and the church will participate in the New Song of the Redeemed as an anthem of ceaseless praise to the Lamb on the throne throughout endless ages. Hallelujah, what a savior!