The Holy City (2)

“The angel who talked to me held in his hand a gold measuring stick to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. When he measured it, he found it was a square, as wide as it was long. In fact, its length and width and height were each 1,400 miles. Then he measured the walls and found them to be 216 feet thick (according to the human standard used by the angel). The wall was made of jasper, and the city was pure gold, as clear as glass.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21:15-18‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The New Jerusalem was some place! It was a cube, each side being 1,400 miles long, though possibly open at the top (we know it had a base because we read about the foundations in the last verse). In the conversation between John and the angel, it became apparent that the angel had a “gold measuring stick” in his hand. John saw that it was made of gold, signifying something true and calibrated to be exactly correct. In the natural it would have taken a very long time to measure the three dimensions with a portable ruler. But in John’s vision it would have taken no time at all. The angel also measured the thickness of the walls, and found them to be 216 feet. John wrote an aside here, pointing out that the measurements were “to the human standard”. In other words, the New Jerusalem will be bigger and more substantial than anything we could ever imagine. We will probably never be able to explore its limits when we get there. Rather sadly, I calculated that the volume of the walls alone would be over 250 cubic kilometres. A mind boggling feat of engineering. But nothing to our amazing Creator God! But it gets even more wonderful. The wall is made of jasper. No concrete structure this. Jasper is a semi-precious stone, much valued by the ancient Israelites, especially if green. It featured as the last stone in the High Priest’s breastplate, as described in Exodus 28:20, “The fourth row will contain a blue-green beryl, an onyx, and a green jasper. All these stones will be set in gold filigree.” The type of jasper favoured by the Israelites was very translucent, so the Holy City would have glowed with its inner light, lit up by the glory of God. But also twinkling away as light penetrated and reflected off its surfaces. Perhaps the jasper John saw was so pure that it behaved almost like diamonds.

Inside the city, John could see that it was made of gold. Pure gold. But it was a special variation of the precious metal, because it was “as clear as glass”. The mineralogy behind the Holy City was of a kind unknown on Planet Earth. Perhaps this was how the earthly jasper and gold should have been before the impact of sin and wickedness warped and twisted God’s original creation.

We pilgrims will notice that the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is something special because God is living within it. And it will be amazing to be able to join Him there. But God lives within each one of us through faith right now. Jesus said to His disciples, as recorded in John 14:23, “… All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.” The God-experience within us is only bounded by our faith and humanity. He is always wanting to do more through us, if only we had the faith to let Him. That same power that could create the Holy City out of jasper and gold is available to each one of us today. I am always impressed and challenged by Ephesians 3:20, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Tapping into God’s “mighty power”starts with a living, breathing relationship with Him, taking small steps of faith. And before long we will find out that we are accomplishing much for Him. Notice the word that Paul includes in this verse. “Infinitely”. That’s quite a lot! There is no limit to what God can do.

Dear Father God. We confess our lack of faith and our timidity, when it comes to doing great things for You. Please help us, we pray. Amen.


The One sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled His throne like a rainbow.”
Revelation‬ ‭4:3‬ ‭NLT

John’s glimpse through the door of Heaven must have been amazing. Apparently just inside the door was a throne, and his eyes fixed, as far as they were able, on the Person sitting there, a Person who must have been God. And this is where his ability to communicate what he saw started to struggle. The only way he could make sense of the vision was to compare it with precious stones. And shining through those stones was light. Lots of it. Making them glow and sparkle with a brilliance almost too bright to bear. John, a one time fisherman, would not have had ready access to precious stones but he must have been knowledgeable enough to know what they were.

What about these precious stones? Jasper is a naturally occurring, silicate based, piece of quartz, that can be found in several different colours, caused by whatever minerals were in its presence when it was formed. So we have red, yellow, green, occasionally blue, stones with manifestations of streaks or spots. It is translucent but not clear. Apparently, it may have been two of the gemstones included on the Old Testament Jewish High Priest’s breastplate. Carnelian is another naturally occurring, silica based mineral, coloured with varying amounts of iron oxide that give it colours extending from pale yellow to the deepest reds. Again, it was a translucent, rather than clear, semi-precious stone much used for jewellery. It was also the first stone on the High Priest’s breastplate.

So we get the picture of God’s appearance to John as being like these gemstones, multicoloured and with an extremely bright light source behind them, so bright that it made God glow with a presence and appearance formed by the gemstones. God’s appearance must have been substantial enough for John to recognise who He was – it wasn’t just an amorphous blob he saw – but like nothing on earth that he had ever seen before. I think of the quartz pebbles commonly found on Scottish beaches – they are white and semi-translucent and, when held up to the light, pass enough of it through to make them glow. But with Heavenly light behind them they would have been transformed into something else altogether.  But John did his best to describe what he saw. Imagine the difficulty someone would have describing a mobile smartphone a century ago to their next door neighbour. Much of the description would be incomprehensible because the knowledge would not have been there to describe 5G communication, digital data, Apps for messaging and so on. Even batteries, so powerful and small, would have been a marvel. John saw something no man had seen before, through that Heavenly door – one day we too will get a chance to see it.

Finally, John described the glow of an emerald. This is another silicate based gemstone. There are often inclusions of minerals introducing flaws in the stone, but sometimes emeralds can be clear and flawless, with a greenish colour. But an emerald does not glow on its own, so again the light source behind it would have made it appear to glow. This would have been a special light, perhaps combined with the physical form of the emerald, making all the colours of the rainbow encircle the throne. 

So what does a modern pilgrim make of all this? Well, this initial glimpse precedes a rolling exposure of Heaven, which we will see in the coming weeks, as Jesus and His servant angels reveal this wonderful place to John. In reality, I think Heaven will be amazing. I’m sure John only got a glimpse of a fraction of it – it will be incomprehensible to a human being. Through the grace of God, John received a revelation, a hint, of what Heaven will be like. But here’s the thing – there will be many pilgrims there. Let’s make sure we will be in their company.

Dear Lord. We know Heaven will be a wonderful place because You live there. Please help us on our journeys, as we draw nearer and nearer to be with You. Amen.