If you're one of those people who thinks heaven will be a dull, boring place of same old, same old, the Apostle John's vision in Revelation 21:9-21 will make you think again.
The Father’s House
One million people every year visit a home nestled in the foothills of Nashville, North Carolina. It is, in fact, the most visited home in the United States.
It was built by a man named George Vanderbilt, the youngest son of William. George inherited around 7 million dollars – most of earned by his grandfather – a man nicknamed The Commodore – who basically owned the railroad business.
George Vanderbilt would grow up as the third generation – which is usually the generation who spends what his parents and grandparents earned.
In fact, George would end up spending more money on his house than he made – which makes him a lot like most people you know. George died in debt at the age of 51.
But he didn’t die until after building much of what we call today, The Biltmore Estate. It was designed and patterned after a French chateaux – a really big French chateaux – it ended up in the neighborhood of 175,000 square feet, featuring 250 rooms.
George Vanderbilt called his multi-million dollar extravaganza, his, “little mountain escape”. My family and I have toured this little mountain escape and the gardens nearby and found it to be rather amazing.
It’s certainly not what I would call ‘a little mountain escape’. My version of a little mountain escape is driving on the Blue Ridge parkway and stopping at a dairy queen . . . what more could you want, right?
Vanderbilt’s home was designed by a famous architect with such elaborate and opulent detail as if George and his family were European royalty. Chairs in their huge dining room were patterned after royal thrones. Private bedrooms and sitting rooms were outfitted as if for kings, down to the table and chess set that had once been owned by Napoleon.
From the two story library to an indoor swimming pool – something inconceivable for most people in the 1800’s – the lavish settings with tapestries and art canvasses from European masters hanging on the walls. It’s all really stunning.
Rare conveniences were built into the mansion like an elevator, intercom systems, hot and cold running water and even a bowling alley equipped by Brunswick, no less and the stables even have indoor plumbing.
Talk about a house!
The Biltmore is a place where you walk around with your jaw to the ground. Maybe you paid a little extra for the headphones and the little receiver so that you could go on a tour at your own pace and listen to the audio message telling you a little more detail about the things you were looking at as you walked through the house.
Dozens of servants did everything to operate the estate and the Vanderbilt’s hosted one holiday retreat after another. In fact, if you lived in the late 1800’s, to receive an invitation to the Vanderbilt home for a vacation was really something special.
Now, in comparison to your house and mine, the Biltmore – at 175,000 square feet – is a really big house. In comparison to the 3 mile driveway, your driveway and mine isn’t probably much to write home about.
Today I wanna talk to you about another house – it’s your future home. It’s a house that makes the Biltmore and every other mansion on earth look like a shed . . . a little lean-to.
This house is unlike any house you’ve ever imagined. The architect and builder of this house is God (Hebrews 11:10).
John records in His Gospel account where Jesus Christ promised His disciples that He was going back to the Father’s house and prepare a place for all those who believe in Him. He promised them and us that He would personally return and we with Him to occupy the Father’s house.
By virtue of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you have all received an invitation to not only attend a retreat here – but move in as one of the family.
Turn to John’s Revelation, and at chapter 21, as some of the house is described to us.
And I’ve got to tell you – much of it will still be a mystery. God is the architect and builder and He has decided to keep most of it a secret – we’re literally gonna have to wait and see.
But I thought this would be the perfect Mother’s day message, because I’m gonna to describe your future home you will never have to vacuum. You’ll never wash another dish again. No more laundry . . . you will never dust again.
Now if you were buying a house today, you might want to see certain things about it.
The first thing you might want to see is an aerial view. You might go to Google-earth and find the house via satellite and focus in so that you can see the house and the land around it in one quick glance.
And that’s exactly what happens first with John the Apostle.
Notice chapter 21 of Revelation and verse 9. Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of Jerusalem.”
This is the same angel, by the way, that appeared to John in chapter 17 and said, ‘Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot – Babylon – who sits on many waters.”
In other words, Babylon is pictured not only as a city, but as a harlot. A woman who gave her love and attention to the false Messiah, Antichrist.
Now, the angel shows up again to show John the city of God, inhabited by the redeemed and he refers to her, not as a harlot but as a faithful wife to the true Messiah, the Lamb of God – who is Jesus Christ.
Verse 10. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper.
As John sees it from above, the thing that strikes him is the glory of God’s light permeating throughout and literally sparkling with light.
The word translated jasper her in verse 11 is best understood as referring to a diamond – a very costly one too because John writes it was like crystal–clear.
In fact, it’s the only time in the New Testament that the word for ‘crystal-clear’ is ever used. / Stewart Custer, Revelation: From Patmos to Paradise, (BJU Press, 2004), p. 243
So heaven’s capital city is pictured as if it were some huge, flawless diamond, refracting and reflecting the brilliant, blazing glory of God. / John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 2000), p. 279
If you look down at verse 18, John tells us that the wall of the city was jasper – as we’ll see in a moment, other costly and colorful gems are added to the materials used to construct this city so that this city will literally reflect an amazing rainbow display of color.
I remember as a kid chasing a rainbow a few times with my friends. If we saw one in the sky, we’d hop on our bikes and pedal toward it – and of course the faster we rode, the further away it went. We never to it . . . and we never saw that Leprechaun either.
Here in the Father’s house it will seem like you are literally walking into the rainbow, immersed in a waterfall of color.
John goes on in verse 18 to tell us that the city was pure gold, like clear glass.
Immediately you’re struck with the fact that we’ve never seen any material like this before. We’ve never seen gold so pure that it is transparent.
Gold will only add to the warmth and wealth of the city. Gold is the substance throughout this city which is designed to magnify and display the glory of God.
In the Old Testament, the Shekinah glory – the brilliance of God’s presence rested on the Ark of the Covenant in the holy of holies. The prophet Ezekiel informs us that the glory departed before the final destruction of Solomon’s temple (Ezekiel 8:4; 9:3; 10:4, 18; 11:23). While the builders of the second temple prayed for the glory to return, there is no record that it ever did (Haggai 2:3). Israel’s only hope in those days was that the glory would return one day.
For over 400 years the temple was dark and empty. It stood as a symbol of Israel’s empty ritual. No glory. No presence of God. No power. But then, God took on flesh and the angels appeared outside Bethlehem and the “glory of the Lord shone around them” . . . the glory returned. (Luke 2:9-14) The angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest.” / Edward Hindson, Revelation: Unlocking the Future (AMG, 2002), p. 217
But even then the glory of God’s light was shadowed by human flesh.
The glory of God was briefly seen by the Apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration when Christ’s glory became visible for a brief moment of time.
But what John sees here in this vision is the full and open disclosure of the glory of God that the shepherds saw – only with more brilliance – they had seen a sliver of the light, just as the Apostles did on the mount of transfiguration when the curtain of flesh was pulled back for just a moment.
But here it comes in it’s fullest and now eternal expression. The city of gold, sparkling and shimmering like a diamond – this is the Father’s house – the glory of God’s light – a city of gold – now descending to the new earth.
Now John moves in for a closer inspection and inspects the front exterior of the Father’s house in verse 12. It had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels.
So there really are gates into heaven – there are 12 of them – and angels posted at each gate.
Would you notice that Peter isn’t standing at any of them. Poor Peter – he’s been forever relegated to standing at the gate with a clipboard.
God has assigned angels to stand at the gates as eternal greeters – not to keep people out, but to welcome them in.
Peter is not a gatekeeper, he’s an inhabitant.
Now notice further in verse 12. And names were written on them – the gates – which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. So, each of the 12 gates has the name of one of the 12 tribes of Israel engraved upon it.
Skip down to verse 14 and notice those aren’t the only names. John writes, And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
So you have on the city gates the names of the 12 sons of Israel; and on the 12 foundation stones you have enscribed the names of the 12 Apostles.
And I know someone is going to come up to me after every one of the three services this morning and ask me, “Who is the 12thApostle?” And I will tell you that I am absolutely convinced that it isn’t me. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.
It could very well be Matthias . . . he met the qualifications of an Apostle as the early believers selected him in Acts 1:26. It could be the great apostle to the Gentiles, the Apostle Paul.
If it isn’t Paul, I’m sure he won’t be going around heaven muttering under his breath that he got ripped off. No, he really won’t care.
The significance of their names is the fact that God is both referencing and distinguishing Israel and the church.
This text, by the way, is the last nail in the coffin of replacement theology which believes the church has taken the place of Israel.
The names of the 12 Apostles carved into the foundation stones and the names of the 12 tribes of Israel carved into the city gates makes an eternal distinction between them. / Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1995), p. 465
God intends to remind the inhabitants of heaven His beloved people drawn to Him by grace out of every dispensation of His plan through the nation Israel and through the church birthed on the last Pentecost.
One has not voided the other.
Imagine it, then – God has built into the architecture of His house a way of reminding us forever of His plan of redemption throughout the ages – first through Israel and then, through His church.
I find it fascinating that God doesn’t engrave verses of scripture into the foundation and gates, but the names of people.
Now notice as verse 13 informs us that there are three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west.
And there are 12 of them. 3 on the south side of the city; 3 on the west side; 3 on the north side and 3 on the east side of the city. Don’t follow which way I’m pointing – I don’t know which way I’m pointing – I was raised in the south – we don’t know which way east is – we just the know which way the Dairy Queen is.
If you’re from the North you say, go three blocks and turn east and go 1 mile and turn north. If you’re from the South you say, go to where those trees are and turn left; then go down to the Dairy Queen and after you get an ice cream cone, turn right.
That’s why we love our navigation systems in the south. I actually have one now in my cell phone that actually talks to me . . . it’s a woman’s voice – and she’s constantly telling me, “You are now off course . . . make a legal u-turn . . . what are you thinking?”
No, she doesn’t say that, but I know she wants to.”
By the way, gates on all four sides of the city are not just for decoration.
Gates area designed to enter and exit . . . we have every reason to believe that the redeemed will have their dwelling place in the Father’s house, as the Lord promised, but be able to leave the city to enjoy the new earth and even perhaps travel to distant planets or even galaxies throughout God’s recreated universe.
We will repeatedly enter through these gates for unique worship before the throne of God, along with other believers, perhaps for special events, special seasons of corporate worship and then we will exit again to serve Him on some appointed task or journey. / Stephen J. Lawson, Heaven Help Us (Navpress, 1995), p. 124
If you’re interested in living in a house, you might look at it from the air; you’ll certainly inspect the materials it’s made out of; and you’ll want to have an inspector make sure the foundation of the home is secure.
And that’s what John shows us next in verse 14. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones and on them were the twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.
Now if you look down at verses 19 and 20 you’ll see a description of each foundation stone.
John writes in verse 19. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone.
Now stop for a moment – you might get the idea that each foundation stone is decorated with gems. The language John uses is better understood to mean that each one of these foundation stones was each a solid gem.
The first one John mentions is jasper. The crystal clear description isn’t added this time and it might be that reddish tinted gem that we know today.
Just keep in mind that all we’ve ever seen are little pieces of these precious stones – here you have huge foundation stones.
To give you an idea of the staggering glory of even these foundation stones in the Father’s house, when Herod rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, the foundation stones were 70 feet long, and 8 feet tall and 9 feet wide. / William Barclay, Revelation: Volume 2 (Westminster, 1976), p. 213
One of those foundation stones was as long as the distance between this pulpit and the back wall of the auditorium as wide as the island I’m standing upon and it would almost reach the top of this pulpit.
And that was for a relatively small structure compared to this eternal house that encloses nothing less than an eternal city.
As you’ll see in a moment, the walls of the heavenly city will require absolutely gigantic foundation stones – but keep in mind these will be solid gemstones created by God to not only support the city walls but reflect light into and around and away from in this stunning display of beauty.
You might write into the margin of your Bibles the different colors that are represented in this list.
The first is jasper – a clear stone in John’s description.
The second foundation stone in verse 19 is a sapphire – a deep blue stone.
Next comes a Greek word pronounced, kalkedon (calkhdwn) – or chalcedony – the word is found only here in the New Testament. It’s a gemstone that has a greenish-blue color. / Warren Wiersbe, Revelation: Be Victorious (Victor Books, 1987), p. 150
The fourth foundation stone is an emerald with a deep green color.
In verse 20, John mentions the sardonyx – a white stone with bands of brownish red streaks encircling it.
Next comes the sardius which is a deep red gemstone.
The seventh foundation stone is the chrysolite – a gold colored gemstone.
The eighth gemstone is beryl – a word that appears only here in the New Testament, referring to a gemstone that has a teal-blue color to it.
The ninth gemstone is a topaz – a golden-greenish color.
Then tenth gemstone is chrysoprase – a pale green gemstone.
The jasinth is the eleventh gigantic foundation stone and this gemstone is a pale violet color.
The final foundation stone is the amethyst – a gem that is a rich purple.
Talk about interior design.
Think about it . . . don’t just read the list and think, that’s nice.
The brilliant light if God’s glory will pass through these many different colored stones and it will be breathtaking. / Duck & Richards, p. 324
God is revealing to us that He has taken the most beautiful and precious gems in this world – that we buy in little chips – and He will use them lavishly to decorate with beauty and color the eternal home of His beloved.
What a house . . . this is the Father’s house!
Now, one of the key questions you’ll ask about a house you’re interested in is, “How many square feet does it have?”
The angel anticipates that question and so he measures out the floor plan in verse 15. The one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. In other words, the angel will do the measuring. 16. The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal.
Now because John writes that the length and width and height are equal, this city must be in the form of a cube. But that’s not what John writes.
He simply says that the city has the same dimensions in three ways: length, breadth and height. In other words, it was a long as it was wide as it was high.
That could be a cube, but it could also be a kind of pyramid styled structure.
We’ve already studied this in our exposition of the Father’s house in the Millennial Kingdom – this same structure that lands on the topographically altered earth as Christ reigns on the top tier of the structure.
There are many expositors who believe that during the Millennial reign this city hovers above Jerusalem and then comes down to rest on the newly formed earth.
That could very well be – although it could have rested on earth during the Millennial reign and then raised off while the earth was destroyed and then descended – this time with all the redeemed from all time – including those mortals who were born into the Millennial Kingdom and who trusted Christ as Savior.
A pyramid fits perfectly, not only with John’s terminology, but also with what we’ve seen throughout history in the heart of man who sought to unseat the authority of God and build a tower to represent his worship of the heavens.
From Mexico to China to Egypt, from the time of Babel’s tower and the origination of the zodiac in Genesis 10, rebellious man has attempted to build a structure to epitomize his own glory and the worship of the stars.
From the pyramids of the Pharaohs to the ziggurats of the Mayans, mankind has sought to connect with the stars and the universe beyond while ignoring the Creator God.
Could it be that Adam and Abraham after him were told enough about this city – which we’re told Abraham looked for this city whose builder and architect is God – told enough to pass down among the ancients so that those who rebelled against God like Nimrod would try to replicate the coming house of almighty God.
There’s little doubt in my mind this is exactly what happened.
For our study today, none of that makes much difference. Except that now John gives us dimensions.
The angel measures the wall one way and then another in verse 16 – and they are equal to the height of the city. The angel measures it out to be 12,000 stadia, the Greek language says – here translated around 1,500 miles.
Most current research indicates that a stadia was about 607 feet long. That would make the city walls and its height around 1,300 miles. / MacArthur, p. 281
Now there is healthy debate about John’s description. One side argues that John is giving the length of each side, or, John is giving us the combined total of the sides and height.
In fact, if you look closely at verse 16 again, John doesn’t tell us that each side is 1500 miles, but that the length width and height are equal. Notice, The city is laid out as a square, and its length is a great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal.
To put it in the words of a mathmetician, John is actually giving us three dimensions which means that 1300 miles refers to a cubed measurement.
11 times 11 times 11 equals approximately 1300 miles.
In other words, the angel measures one wall length and it’s 11 miles long. He turns the corner and measures another wall and it’s 11 miles long. He then says the height is the same distance as length and the total measurement is 12,000 stadia – or right at 1300 miles.
Now, what kind of house would that be? How big would this house be?
For those who think I’m inclined to believe that this measurement is cubed because I have trouble believing the city could possibly be 1300-1500 miles long and high are mistaken.
God can do that with one arm tied behind His back. I just don’t think that’s what John is saying.
Let me try to describe just how big a house is that is 11 miles long, wide and high.
The tallest building on earth today is the Burj Tower in Dubai, on the coast of the Arabian Gulf.
It happens to be 2,625 feet tall. It’s really tall and it is costing a few billion dollars.
But it’s not anywhere near the height of the Father’s house.
The tallest mountain in the world is Mount Everest.
It stretches 29, 000 and a few feet into the air in all it’s magnificence.
Even still, it is not nearly as magnificent in size as the Father’s city of gold.
If we could compare these three structures. The tallest skyscraper built by human hands; the tallest mountain mankind has ever scaled and put them next to the Father’s house, towering into earth’s troposphere, they are dwarfed.
And by the way – Biltmore cannot be seen on this scale.
Here is the city of God – the Father’s House – towering 11 miles into the sky. By the way, the atmosphere stretches up 11 miles and there the troposphere begins.
It’s as if God’s house rises to the very top level of the atmosphere to communicate that He alone is the true and living God of the earth – and the prince of the power of the air no longer rules in rebellion against Him.
He is the God of the earth, the air, and everything beyond.
Now, if you were going to buy a house, you’d want to see an overall picture of it; you’d want to make sure the materials are well chosen and the foundation well secured; you’d be interested in the interior design and even the colors on the walls would either disinterest you or interest you.
You’d also want to step out onto the front porch and you’d no doubt take a good look at the front door.
John shows us several front doors. We’ve already noted there are 12 of them – 3 gates on each side.
John adds one remarkable detail however to the front doors of this palace. Notice verse 21. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl.
Back in verse 17 we were given the thickness of the wall – which comes out to be around 144 cubits – translated into English, that’s around 250 feet thick.
We’re told by John that there are gates hinged with single pearls matching, obviously the thickness of the wall; which then allows us to figure out something just as staggering as a city stretching 11 miles into the air.
Based on the language here and the width of the wall, each pearl would have a diameter of 250 feet. / Grant R. Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary: Revelation (Baker, 2002), p. 758
Now to help you imagine how big one of those pearls would be to have a diameter of 250 feet, let me illustrate it this way.
We’re sitting in an auditorium right now where we can squeeze in 1400 people into one service if we have to. If we could take a crane and lower one of these pearls into this auditorium, it wouldn’t fit. In fact, this auditorium wouldn’t be nearly big enough to house one pearl.
We’d have to go to the RBC Center where the Hurricanes play hockey and where NC State plays basketball.
If we had a crane and we tried to lower one pearl into that 19,000 seat arena we still would have problems.
In fact, we’d have to double the size of that Arena to 37,000 seats before we would have a building large enough to hold one pearl the size of these 12 pearls that serve as one gate each.
That lets you know how big the gates are too.
These gates are humongous. That’s quite a house.
But why would pearls be the gateway into the capital city of heaven?
Of all the other precious gems, the pearl is the only gem mentioned which is formed by living flesh. The little oyster receives an irritation or a wound and around that offending article that has penetrated and hurt it, the oyster layers over it and over it, again and again until it builds a pearl. / John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Loizeaux Brothers, 1991), p. 254
A pearl speaks of beauty born out of pain. / Ray Stedman, Revelation: God’s Final Word (Discovery House, 1991), p. 344
You might say that a pearl is the answer of the oyster to that which injured it. Heaven is God’s answer, in Christ. He was put to open suffering and He was crucified, bearing the greatest irritation possible of sin and shame.
John Phillips wrote, “As the believers come and go through the gates of glory, they will be forever reminded that access to God’s home is only because of Calvary. Think of the size of those gates! What gigantic suffering is symbolized by those gates of pearl. Throughout the endless ages we shall be reminded by those pearly gates of the immensity of the sufferings of Christ. Those pearls, hung eternally at the access routes to glory will remind us forever of One how hung upon a tree and whose answer to those who injured Him was to invite them to share His home forever. / Phillips, p. 254
So what does our tour of this house reveal to us of God? What speaks from these snapshots of our eternal home?
- That our God is a God of light and glory;
- He is a God who appreciates ceremony and wealth and royalty;
- He is a God of accessibility and openness;
- who measures carefully and designs thoroughly;
- who demonstrates truth with sentimental value;
- who doesn’t forget names;
- a God of unimaginable extravagance,
- who loves to give and cares to remind us of His love;
- A God of splendor and creativity and colorful detail;
- of security and strength and opulence and lavishness.
- a God who sacrificed everything for us and gives us everything.
And above all . . . a God of grace.
Oh, because of Christ, these gates will swing open for us . . . because of grace, we will be able to enter this celestial city; and we will have a place in the Father’s house!