I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb… The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits[d] thick. The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.
Revelation 21:2a. 10a 12-14, 17-21
The New Jerusalem is described as a community more than anything else; in its description, we see little of the appearance of its architecture, but we get a great deal of insight about the people who are the city. In calling it the “New Jerusalem” John is using the name of the old Jewish capital, the city that was the embodiment of the nation; here is the embodiment of all of the people who have come to God by following His Son.
Notice first off that the new city “comes down” from God; it is not located in the sky or in the clouds, but comes from God, is His sole creation. It has 12 foundations with the names of the 12 Apostles, who are the foundation upon which His church is built. We have seen this notion in NT passages such as Eph, 2:20. It also has 12 gates named after the 12 tribes of Israel. Earlier in Revelation we have seen the 12 tribes used as symbols for the whole of God’s people; the gates represent the entryways for all people who follow God.
The city is 12,000 stadia long, by 12,000 stadia wide and 12,000 stadia high, roughly a 1,400 mile cube. Yet as we have seen, the number twelve represents God’s people. Here we have 12 X 1,000 three times, representing the total number of the redeemed. The walls are 144 cubits thick, once again representative of the full number of God’s people, therefore we must conclude that “new Jerusalem” is the people of God.
The 12 stones closely resemble the stones on the breastplate of Aaron, the High Priest, and even though they don’t match exactly Exodus 28, they seek again to identify the city with the people of God. All of these images, the city name, its dimensions, gates, foundations and building materials point us to the fact that the New Jerusalem represents God’s people together, not as individuals alone and isolated. My view is that this tells us that our eternity will be spent in community, a community based upon relationships with God, and with other people of God, a much more interesting prospect than playing a harp while seated on a cloud for all eternity!