21:12 twelve gates. The description of the glorious holy city, the new Jerusalem, is too detailed to admit of anything but literal interpretation, though there have been many efforts to try to spiritualize it. There is every reason to believe that John is describing exactly what he saw, and that God means exactly what He says (note the warning in Revelation 22:18-19). In other words, the holy city is a literal city on a literal earth, with dimensions and descriptions exactly as recorded.
21:12 twelve tribes. The fact that both the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:14) are inscribed on the city’s foundational structures indicates that “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Revelation 21:9) who will indwell and personify the city, is composed of believers from both old and new covenants, both before and after the first coming of Christ, Israel and the church. Compare also Ephesians 2:14, 19-21.
21:16 twelve thousand furlongs. The Greek word here is stadia, and the equivalent of 12,000 stadia is approximately 1380 miles, which is the length of each side of this gigantic cubical city (some writers have suggested that the city might be of pyramid shape, but pyramid-shaped towers—ever since Babel—have been associated with pagan idolatry, whereas the cube, beautifully suggesting the divine Trinity (see note on Romans 1:20) is the shape specified by God for the holy place in the temple (I Kings 6:20).
21:21 twelve pearls. The pearly gates, each consisting of 1380 miles of solid pearl, are never closed (Revelation 21:25), thus providing access to the city at every level throughout its great height.
21:21 street of the city. The “street of the city” must be an inter-connected complex of both horizontal streets and vertical streets (like elevator shafts), all of translucent gold. The glorified bodies of the saints will be like that of Christ (Philippians 3:21), capable of moving at great speed through space (note John 20:17; also Daniel 9:21-23), and therefore can easily move both horizontally and vertically about the city. How it is that the streets of pure gold can also be like transparent glass we do not yet understand. However, “the gold is mine, saith the LORD” (Haggai 2:8), and He can do with it as He will. The city will be of indescribable beauty in its total aspect (I Corinthians 2:9).
21:22 temple of it. All the purposes of a localized temple will have been served; God’s presence will henceforth be immediate and forever. “The Lord God Almighty” is His name of infinite majesty, “the Lamb” of His suffering yet spotless humanity. He is eternally the God-Man.
21:23 no need of the sun. Although the city will not need the light of the sun and moon, they will continue to exist forever (note Psalm 89:36; 148:3,6; Ecclesiastes 3:14), along with all the stars (e.g., Daniel 12:3).
21:24 kings of the earth. The identity of these “kings of the earth” and “the nations of them which are saved” is somewhat enigmatic at this time. There seem to be two possibilities. Assuming the new earth is the same size as the present earth, there will be extensive land areas outside the holy city (even the vast area occupied by the city would only cover about 1/75 of the earth’s surface, with none of the surface occupied by ocean waters). Consequently, in addition to their extensive “mansions” (John 14:2) in the holy city itself, each of the twenty billion or so inhabitants could have extensive “country estates” in the earth outside the city. It is noteworthy that there will still be a divine recognition of the “nations” that God had established. Even though there is only one race (i.e., the human race—Acts 17:26), there will always be nations. Another possibility is that all true believers among the earthly nations and kings will still be in their natural flesh, having been translated (like Enoch and Elijah) into the heavenly city before the holocaust and then returned to the new earth, finally to fill it and have godly dominion over it as God originally commanded Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:26-28). This would help explain the occasional Biblical references to “perpetual generations” (e.g., Genesis 9:12) and similar expressions (Genesis 22:17; Isaiah 9:7; Ephesians 3:21). Once the earth was “filled,” then future generations could be sent out to colonize other planets, and so on, forever. At this time, we simply don’t know.
21:25 no night there. Although there will be no “night” in the city itself, there will continue to be day and night in the cosmos as a whole (e.g., Revelation 20:10), as well as “months” on the new earth (Revelation 22:2).