Revelation 21:16 - 17
ESV - 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement.
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Since Revelation 22:18-19 pronounces judgments from God against anyone who either adds to or takes away from the words recorded in Revelation, and other portions of Revelation feature interpreters who explain the meaning of various aspects of what John is seeing if they are unclear or symbolic, while there is no such explanatory verbiage mentioned in connection with the New Jerusalem, that would lead me to believe that the dimensions given in the verses cited in the question are meant to be taken literally. If God created the universe out of nothing, it is certainly within His power to fashion a city conforming to the detailed description found in Revelation 21:16-21. Also, as I understand it, this city is to be located on the new earth mentioned in Revelation 21:1, and is not to be taken as being located in any of the three senses of the word "heaven" (the atmosphere around us; outer space; or the abode of God) since the city is mentioned in Revelation 21:2 and Revelation 21:10 as coming down from heaven, and Revelation 21:3 says that the dwelling of God is now with men.
The dimensions of this city are often described as being a cube. I would like to propose a different "shape" that I believe fits into a design that God seems to already show some preference towards. I believe that this will be a "city/mountain". At its base, the Bible says that the city "the New Jerusalem" will be about 1500 miles square, and it states that it will be as high as it is wide. As a "cube" city it would rival any hotel man has ever created, but nothing in Scripture actually says that it is a cube: only that it is as high as it is wide. As a mountain, this would create beauty and real estate for many mansions of glory facing in all directions. This causes us to pause and reread what the Scripture says though - it will be a NEW heaven and Earth. It would have to be because 1500 miles high is HUGE! God is in the habit of giving us a foreshadowing of what his end-state agenda offers. I believe that the Scriptures are showing us a hint of a life on earth, but an earth that is capable of sustaining a different environment than we are currently living under. (Christian scientists help us to see how God has already reshaped the environment between the pre and post flood eras.If he has done it once, he can do it again.) A mountain that reaches 1500 miles into the atmosphere would require the same type of re-engineering. And yet it seems like God would stay within his character to have a River of Life flowing down from a mountain and meandering all the way to the base, circumnavigating the mountain and reaching the most people as possible. This hypothesis also considers some interesting suppositions of human inclinations towards preferentiality that some may struggle with. For example, the wealthier tend to have the best locations for their "mansions" on earth. Though some may want to see our eternity as a socialist fantasia, Jesus himself talked about rewards in heaven based on our "investments" into his kingdom (while still in the "seeing dimly" phase of our life). Do you believe that God would want to offer even more to someone who offered him more? In fact, I believe that his rewards will humble us as we feel unworthy of them. His Presence at the top of a mountain, abiding in his shekinah glory fully revealed, would light up the entire city, a city that would then no longer need a sun to provide light. I can see our Father King wanting to elevate those who elevated him highest in their lives to the highest places in his kingdom.
All too often, when considering difficult passages, we tend to read over important contextual clues without factoring them into our interpretation. I believe that happens more frequently with Revelation than most other books of the Bible. This often leads us to assume things about the text are simply not true. False assumptions may then lead to false doctrine. For example, with regard to “the New Jerusalem” (also called “the city”) referenced in this text we have two clear indications of exactly what that city represents. In verse 2 of chapter 21 we see John’s description of what he saw. He tells us it was “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” And, in verse 9 of the same chapter John is told plainly by “one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues” that what he was being shown was indeed “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” In all the Bible the only texts I can find regarding the “Bride” or the “Wife of the Lamb” or of Christ is in reference to the invisible church of Jesus Christ or to the chosen people of Israel as the precursor to the church (see 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:23, 1 Corinthians 11:3, John 3:29, Isaiah 62:5, Matthew 25:1-13, etc.). In context, Revelation 21 and 22 are giving us a symbolic description of “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” which is, in biblical terms, the elect of God or the true Church of Jesus Christ. Nowhere in scripture is heaven referred to as the Bride, the wife of the Lamb. That title is reserved for the church. The images used here to describe Jesus’ “Bride” are metaphorically descriptive and beautifully symbolic of the true spiritual nature and character of God’s collective people who have been purified and made holy by the righteousness of Jesus Himself. The Father and the Lamb are present within and among them providing light to reveal truth and to light their path. The Holy Spirit is “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city” (Revelation 22:1-2, John 4:10, John 7:38-39, Jeremiah 17:13, etc.). We could spend a lifetime pondering each of the metaphors used in Revelation. That process will bring blessing if we interpret correctly, but it can end in error and confusion if we misinterpret. However, when we are provided clear contextual indicators as to the meaning of a specific image, we should accept that meaning and consider it carefully in our interpretation of the overall text. Otherwise, we may be forced by our assumptions to ask the wrong questions. The “dimensions” mentioned in chapter 21 of Revelation as well as the characteristics of the walls, gates, foundations, streets, etc., are clearly symbolic of the purified, sanctified and beautified attributes of the Christian church, the Bride of Christ, and not a physical heaven. John was allowed in his vision to see the church, not as man sees it, but as God sees it.
As difficult as it may seem, the dimensions of the city can be understood as literal. The city is likely a cube as indicated by the words “its length, breadth, and height are equal.” The first measurement is 12,000 furlongs. A furlong is about 660 feet so that 12,000 furlongs would be about 1,500 miles. However, the Greek word is stadia, which is not the same as a furlong. It is about 607 feet. This measurement would be approximately 1,400 miles. Because of this measurement, scholars conclude the city is enormous. However, it may be considered another way. Although not noticed in English translations, the literal translation from the Greek is, “And he measured the city with the reed, at [or unto] 12,000 stadia.” The preposition 'at' or 'unto' is used for this measurement whereas in the next verse the wall is measured without the use of any preposition. So the preposition may indicate something different. The Greek word 'epi' can mean 'over' or 'above,' as in Luke 23:38 where it is used for the inscription over Jesus when He was on the cross. If this is the case, the phrase could be “12,000 stadia above.” When John saw the city descending, it could have been 1,400 miles above the earth. The distance of 1,400 miles is a reasonable distance above the earth, currently used as a low satellite orbit. The 12,000 furlongs is usually thought to be connected with the next part, “The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.” But it does not have to be. It can stand alone as it is in some versions and would be natural in the Greek which has no punctuation. Then the following statement describes the height of the wall. “Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits…” Some commentators say this is the thickness of the wall, but the height is the normal way to measure a wall. Therefore, three parts of the passage are not connected to each other: 1. The measurement to the city situated 12,000 furlongs above. 2. The length, breadth, and height are equal. 3. The wall measures 144 cubits. However, with this interpretation, there is no idea of the size of the city. While the city is not measured here, it is measured elsewhere. In speaking of the city, Ezekiel 48:30-34 says each side is 4,500 cubits, which on the basis of the royal cubit of about 20.5 inches is 7,687.5 feet or 1.46 miles. This makes the city almost a thousand times smaller but a more reasonable size. If Ezekiel’s measurement is correct, then the city is a little over 2 square miles or 1,280 acres, enough area for 968 football fields or 256 New York City blocks (5 acres) just on one level. The size of the city is large enough to have the tree of life in “the middle of the street.” Street is singular which is appropriate for a city this size. If the wall is 144 cubits tall around the enormous 1,400 mile high city, it would be a miniature wall which contradicts verse 12 that says the city, “had a great and high wall with twelve gates…” Furthermore, with Ezekiel’s measurement, the wall is in proportion to the city, about a third of the height of the city. Then another thing has to be considered. Since John says he saw the city descending, it seems this city will eventually land on the earth. If so, it would have to fit which the enormous city could not do. The apportioned land for the city as described in Ezekiel 45:6 is 5,000 × 25,000 cubits which is equivalent to 1.6 × 8 miles. The 1.46 × 1.46 mile edifice would comfortably fit. Considering the interpretation of the city suspended 12,000 furlongs above the earth, the dimensions can be understood literally.
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