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Revelation 21

Chapter 21

v. 1: The sea is symbolic of death.  Thus, when John writes, “[T]he sea was no more,” he means, “Death was no more.”  See notes on 20:14.  See also notes on 4:6.

v. 11: Jasper is used as an example of quality and rarity.

Vs. 12-14: The two groups of twelve (the tribes of Israel and the apostles of Christ) are identified with each other.

v. 16: The imagery of the New Jerusalem is meant to allude to the breastplate of judgment worn by the high priest under the Mosaic law.  This breastplate was a folded piece of linen which the high priest wore over his breast.  Its description is in Exodus 28:15-34.   Note the parallels:

  • The breastplate was a square.  “It shall be doubled into a square: a span shall be its length, and a span shall be its width” (Exodus 28:16).
  • The New Jerusalem “is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as its breadth” (Revelation 21:16). [1]
  • “And you shall put settings of stones[2] in it [the breastplate], four rows of stones [with three stones to each row, making a total of twelve stones] (Exodus 28:17).
  • “And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all [with twelve] kinds of precious stones…” (Revelation 21:19).
  • “And the stones [of the breastplate] shall have the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet” (Exodus 28:21).
  • “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations [made of precious stones], and on them were the names of the twelve  apostles of the  Lamb” (Revelation 21:14).

Perhaps the most important symbolic function of the breastplate of judgment is described in Exodus 28:29:  “So Aaron [the high priest] shall bear the names of the sons [the twelve tribes] of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place as a memorial before the LORD continually.”  The high priest was the advocate of the people of God under the Mosaic law.   The breastplate over his heart reminded him of their dependence on him and of the love he should have for them as he comes before God on their behalf.  It was a memorial of the relationship between God and his people through the high priest.  Here in the New Jerusalem this old symbol gains new force.  Christ is our high priest now, and the whole city is his bride (21:2), which he bears in his heart.


[1] In this same verse, John notes that its height is also the same measurement as its length and width, so the New Jerusalem is actually a cube, but since a cube is the three-dimensional manifestation of a square, I think the allusion to the breastplate is still very clear.

[2] See Precious Stones of New Jerusalem appendix for a comparison of those stones with these of the breastplate.

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