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Revelation 21:19, 20 says,
19 The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; 20 the fifth, sardonyx, the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst.
The wall of Jerusalem is said to be “adorned with every kind of precious stone.” The picture being painted is not of huge precious stones being laid as foundation stones for the wall, but rather that the wall itself is made of jasper (Revelation 21:18) and the foundation stones are adorned with various other stones.
As usual, spiritual principles are set forth in physical terms. It appears that precious stones in general represent the works that men do by faith, at least in Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 3:11-13,
11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds upon [adorns?] the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, 13 each man’s work will become evident…
Paul’s metaphor shows the possibility of building upon the foundation various things that represent “each man’s work.” There are combustible materials such as “wood, hay, stubble,” which can be burned by the fiery law, and there are things that survive the fire, such as “gold, silver, precious stones.” Paul, of course, seems to apply this to the foundation of a spiritual temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), while John’s Revelation applies it to the foundation stones of the wall around the city. Nonetheless, in the absence of any other explanation of the meaning of these stones (when used to adorn foundation stones), we cannot go far astray in applying Paul’s metaphor to Revelation 21.
Of course, the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem have no wood, hay, or stubble. Only the pure faith-works of the apostles adorn these 12 stones. In that sense, are we not all adorned, for better or for worse, with the works that we do? So let us not adorn ourselves with works that will shame us in the day of judgment.
The High Priest’s Ephod
In Exodus 28:17-20 we find the list of 12 precious stones that once adorned the high priest’s ephod. The stones were laid out “four-square” (Exodus 28:16), like the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:16), as if to suggest that the high priest was adorned by a modular city. The stones can be viewed as the same foundation stones as seen in New Jerusalem. The order of stones is different, because in a city wall all of the stones must be placed on the perimeter, whereas on the breastplate stones are also placed inside.
Comparing the stones themselves in the order in which they are listed:
Exodus (NASB) Revelation (NASB) Revelation (C.V.)
Ruby Jasper Jasper
Topaz Sapphire Lapis Lazuli
Emerald Jacinth Chalcedony
Turquoise Emerald Emerald
Sapphire Sardonyx Sardonyx
Diamond Sardius Carnelian
Jacinth Chrysolite Topaz
Agate Beryl Beryl
Amethyst Topaz Peridot
Beryl Chrysoprase Chrysoprase
Onyx Jacinth Amethyst
Jasper Amethyst Garnet
Only five of the twelve stones in Revelation 21 are clearly the same as the ones in Exodus: Jasper, Sapphire, Emerald, Beryl, and Sardonyx (or onyx). Because Exodus was written in Hebrew and Revelation in Greek, it is possible that other stones may actually be the same but are named differently. Translations differ as well, because many names of the stones are unknown.
The stones are specifically identified with the twelve tribes of Israel in Exodus 28:21. In Revelation 21:12 the tribes are identified with the twelve gates. In Revelation 21:14 the twelve foundation stones are inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles, and these are adorned with the twelve precious stones, setting forth their works of faith.
Revelation 21:21 continues,
21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
This verse is the origin of the expression “the pearly gates.” The name of the apostles on the twelve gates has also given rise to the idea that Saint Peter is the gatekeeper into heaven, empowered to decide who gets in and who goes to a lower region. Peter, presumably, stands at the East Gate leading into the courts of the temple, holding the keys of the kingdom.
As we saw earlier, Isaiah 60:18 says, “you will call your walls salvation and your gates praise.” Hence, in Revelation 21, “praise” (tehilla) is represented by pearls. What does this mean? As I wrote earlier, tehilla is more than words of praise. It means “to shine, praise, boast, or glory.” True praise is to become an expression of His nature. Speaking words of praise without a corresponding change of nature (heart) is meaningless and empty. Therefore, the gates of praise work together with the walls of fire by restricting entrance to anyone who is yet in disagreement with the character of Christ. The gates of praise are open to all who truly manifest the divine nature, praising Him by their being, and not merely by their words.
Streets of Pure Gold
Revelation 21:21 also tells us that “the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” I have been told by an expert that pure gold is transparent. Most gold today that is of investment grade is only .999 or .9999 fine, leaving a tiny amount of impurities in the gold that prevent it from being transparent.
When Jeremiah lamented over the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, he wrote in Lamentations 4:1,
1 How dark the gold has become, how the pure gold has changed! The sacred stones [or the stones of the sanctuary] are poured out at the corner of every street.
The streets of the earthly Jerusalem were never paved with gold, but in building the temple, Solomon “overlaid the floor of the house with gold, inner and outer sanctuaries” (1 Kings 6:30). This was to signify that the priests who ministered in that temple were “walking” in the purity of the divine nature. In that sense, the floor of the temple carries the same meaning as the streets of a city, except that streets of gold signify that all of the people walk according to the divine nature. A street signifies daily life, not only among the priests, but with everyone in the city.
So when Jerusalem became “the bloody city,” as Ezekiel 22:2, 3 tells us, its “gold” was darkened by impurities, Jeremiah says, and “the pure gold has changed.”
On the other hand, the streets of New Jerusalem are said to be paved with gold so pure that it is transparent. It is a prophetic way of telling us that all who enter into the city must come through the gates of praise (pearl), having the divine nature. When they walk the streets of the city, their thoughts, actions, and their very lives themselves are transparent to all, and yet they are unashamed.
The Need for the Wall and the Gates
This entire prophecy about the New Jerusalem is given after the Great White Throne judgment, during which time many are judged by the lake of fire. I have already shown how the Age after the Great White Throne is a time where sinners (debtors) must be sold as slaves in order to learn righteousness from their new slave-owners.
In other words, the Restoration of All Things is a process that is not completed until the great Jubilee sets all men free after 49,000—or, as Psalm 105:8 says, “to a thousand generations.” During this long period of time, there will be unperfected people still being processed, still learning to be led by the Spirit, still being refined in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and its fire, and still not worthy of entering the gates of the city or of walking its streets of gold.
For this reason, there is still a need for the wall of fire and the gates of praise. Whether or not this city is literal, and whether there will be parts of the earth where only the perfected ones may set their foot, it is clear that some will yet be ineligible to enter the city. The perfected ones, of course, will be able to go where they wish without restriction, because Christ will then be King over the whole earth. But the majority of humanity will be restricted in some way.
If this restriction is purely spiritual, then it means only that those who are enslaved to the overcomers under Christ will not be able to attain absolute perfection (transparent gold) until the Jubilee. On the other hand, if God sees fit to set up a specific place on earth for the New Jerusalem, then only the righteous will be eligible to enter its gates. In my opinion, neither view can be proven to the satisfaction of all, so we leave it to each to come to his own conclusion. It is important only to know that during that final Age of Judgment, many will remain unperfected and will live under certain restrictions until the great Jubilee sets all creation free.