“The wall of the city was built on foundation stones inlaid with twelve precious stones: the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass.”
Revelation 21:19-21 NLT
At first sight, there would seem to be a connection between the “twelve precious stones” that were the “foundations stones” of the Holy City, and the twelve gemstones mounted on Aaron’s breastplate, as described in Exodus 28. In both cases each stone represents the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. But the naming of the stones are slightly different. The translators of Exodus 28:17 made a note that the identification of some of the breastplate’s gemstones is uncertain. However, the similarities between the two occurrences of these gemstones was probably very much in John’s mind when he saw the foundations of the Holy City.
The High Priest’s breastplate was there for a purpose. We read in Exodus 28:15, “Then, with great skill and care, make a chest piece to be worn for seeking a decision from God. Make it to match the ephod, using finely woven linen embroidered with gold and with blue, purple, and scarlet thread.” Further down this chapter in verse 29 we read, “In this way, Aaron will carry the names of the tribes of Israel on the sacred chest piece over his heart when he goes into the Holy Place. This will be a continual reminder that he represents the people when he comes before the Lord”. We too can make a connection between our High Priest, Jesus, interceding for us before the throne of God, and forming the foundation to our future home.
There are some significant conclusions we can draw from the use of gemstones, pearls and gold. Firstly, with the gemstones, God was reaffirming His plan to be delivered through Abraham, that he would be the father of many nations. We read in Genesis 17:6, “I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them!”. The references to the twelve tribes represented by the gemstones flow through both the Old and New Testaments like a thread, which only ends with the last references in Revelation. God always fulfils His promises.
Secondly, the gates to the Holy City were made from pearls. In our natural world, pearls are made in certain types of shellfish, particularly oysters, and are caused by a grain of sand causing an irritation that the shellfish covers, and keeps covering, with layers of crystalline calcium carbonate. Perfectly formed pearls have acquired great value and the word “pearl” has been used as a figure of speech describing someone as being admirable or beautiful. In the past it has even been used as a Christian name. But there is a spiritual significance as well. In our sins we were a great irritant to God. But He provided a way that covered the irritation through the blood of Jesus, covering us until we became a thing of beauty, a pearl redeemed by Jesus’ blood. So the way into the Holy City will be through gates made of pearls, signifying the beauty of God’s grace and love, and the redemptive work of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, the “main street was pure gold, as clear as glass”. To understand this, we must dig into the word “pure”. A quote from David Pawson, in his book “The Character of God”. “The scriptural use of the word “holy” means far more than supernatural power. It means supernatural purity. It is the very character of God, and when you say “God is holy” you mean God is cleaner than you can imagine. God is utterly pure, and this is something that we have never known, so it is so difficult for us to imagine it“. The clarity of the pure gold used to pave the streets in the Holy City signifies the holy ground upon which the redeemed will walk. We will walk there in communion with the holiness and purity of God Himself.
We pilgrims can only read about the Holy City and marvel. We lack the imagination or the knowledge to really understand what will be there. John’s vision gives us a few hints, tantalising and teasing us with something that will be so wonderful as to be beyond human comprehension. All we can do is patiently wait for that wonderful day when we will be shown to the room Jesus is preparing for us in the Holy City.
Father God. We thank You for this glimpse of our ultimate eternal home. But we have Your work to complete in our world just now. Please help us to remain focused, always in Your presence. We worship You today. Amen.