Revelation 21:16

Thursday, 19 August 2021

The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Revelation 21:16

Before measuring the city, John notes that “The city is laid out as a square.” The word is found only here in the Bible, tetragonus. It is a compound word signifying “four corners.” But a four-cornered city could be rectangular or some other shape, so John next carefully defines what that means, saying, “its length is as great as its breadth.”

In this, one can see calling the tetragonus “square” is correct. Of this, Albert Barnes rightly notes –

“It was an exact square. That is, there was nothing irregular about it; there were no crooked walls; there was no jutting out, and no indentation in the walls, as if the city had been built at different times without a plan, and had been accommodated to circumstances. Most cities have been determined in their outline by the character of the ground – by hills, streams, or ravines; or have grown up by accretions, where one part has been joined to another, so that there is no regularity, and so that the original plan, if there was any, has been lost sight of. The New Jerusalem, on the contrary, had been built according to a plan of the utmost regularity, which had not been modified by the circumstances, or varied as the city grew. The idea here may be, that the church, as it will appear in its state of glory, will be in accordance with an eternal plan, and that the great original design will have been fully carried out.”

As such, it fits the thought of Paul’s words where he speaks of the blindness of Israel happening until “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” God has an exact and precise listing of human souls that are set for certain purposes. Later Paul says –

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19-22

Building a house implies a builder of a house. And a house is built based on a plan, implying an architect. In this, the builder will know the costs, amounts of materials, and so on that are required to build the house. What God has purposed will be perfectly set forth in New Jerusalem to accommodate those who dwell there.

Even in the seemingly chaotic stream of time in which we live, where things don’t seem to make any sense at all to us, God is working through those things to complete something perfect for His redeemed. With this understood, John next says, “And he measured the city with the reed.”

In this, a long journey would have taken place. Rather than a line of flax or a wheel with a measuring counter on it, or even a GPS to determine the size, it says the city was measured with this golden reed (rod). The measuring would be a long journey because John says it is “twelve thousand furlongs.”

A furlong is 220 yards, and so that distance would equal 2,640,000 yards or 1500 miles. However, the Greek word translated as furlong is stadia. A stadia is 607 feet long, and so the more likely distance is about 1380 miles. As it is squared, this would equate to a footprint of 1,904,400 square miles.

As such, many scholars immediately decry the size as figurative, not literal. If that is so, John could easily have said it was 20 miles square and then given the same other information. Even if symbolism is involved, there should be no reason to not assume that the size of New Jerusalem is not exactly as stated here. If all things are made new, a place for such a city to sit could easily be a part of that renewal.

With this in mind, John finishes the verse with, “Its length, breadth, and height are equal.” As such, this is not just a perfect square, but it is also a perfect cube. It is a whopping amount of space. But the importance of the description takes the reader right back to Exodus 26 where the dimensions of the Most Holy Place can be inferred to be 10x10x10 cubits, or a perfect cube.

This is certainly the case in the temple fashioned by Solomon. In 1 King 6:20, it says, “The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits  high.” This would be the Most Holy Place of the temple, again a perfect cube. The New Jerusalem is likewise a perfect cube, thus the implication is that the dwelling place of God (the Most Holy Place) is also the dwelling place of man – as was explicitly stated in verse 21:3.

The Most Holy Place, that was forbidden for anyone to enter – except the high priest, and only once a year (and not without blood) – was symbolically opened up for any and all at the death of Christ when the veil was torn upon His death. That symbolism now meets up with the reality in the New Jerusalem. And this then completes the thought of Paul from Ephesians 3:19 where the only other time the words “length,” “breadth,” and “height” are used in a single verse. There it says –

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19

In his words, Paul adds in “depth.” There is a perfect cube coming called New Jerusalem. It encompasses the length, breadth, and height of the symbolic dwelling place of God with men, and within it – in its depth – is that dwelling place. This is where “the love of Christ which passes knowledge” will be explored for all eternity.

As God is infinite, He obviously encompasses and extends throughout all of the universe, but the place where He has chosen to dwell in the fullest sense is in this magnificent structure that was anticipated all the way back in a cubed room in a tabernacle in the desert where no man was allowed to enter, under pain of death. But through the blood shed by the One whom all of those implements of the tabernacle anticipated, eternal life is now found in the glorious, cubed edifice known as New Jerusalem – the Most Holy Place.

Life application: New Jerusalem is one big city. It will be big enough to fit the redeemed of all ages, not only because of its breadth and length, but because of its height as well. Because of Christ’s cross, access to God for fallen man is restored. What is available for anyone who has called on Jesus will be realized in its fullness when the redeemed enter the New Jerusalem.

God has prepared a city with foundations for His people, and some wonderful day, we will be ushered into it and into the presence of God for all eternity. Have you reserved a room yet? If not, call on Jesus and enter into the sure promises of what He has prepared for His people. Come through the shed blood of God’s Son and receive the inheritance that He offers. Yes, come today to God through JESUS.

O God! How wonderful it will be to dwell in Your presence in a city that is perfect in every detail and one that reflects Your wisdom and order. We wait in anticipation for the wonderful day when we first walk through its gates to behold the splendor of Your glory! And then, there in that beautiful place, we shall be filled with the wonder of who You are for all eternity. Amen.