“Also, she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.” Revelation 21:12
As the angel continued to give the apostle John a guided tour of the New Jerusalem on the new earth, what caught John’s attention next was the wall of this magnificent city. “12 Also, she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: 13 three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.” (Revelation 21:12-13). The number “twelve” is prominent in the city. There are “twelve gates… angels… tribes of the children of Israel… foundations… apostles … pearls… fruits…” (21:12, 14, 21, 22:2)with the wall “one hundred and forty-four cubits” or twelve times twelve (21:17), and the length, width, and height of the city is “twelve thousand furlongs” 1 or about 1,432 miles 2 for each dimension (21:16).
The “great and high wall” encompassing the New Jerusalem tells us it is a place of tremendous security and serenity for its inhabitants. 3 An added sense of security is noted by the mention of “twelve angels at the gates” to guard them.
We are also informed by John that “the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel” are written on the twelve gates, with “three gates” on each side. Notice also that there will be geographical directions on the new earth (“east… north… south… west”) suggesting that physical space will exist throughout the eternal state as well as time. 4
“If the names of the gates corresponded to the millennial Jerusalem described in Ezekiel 48:31-34, the north side from east to west would have the gates Levi, Judah, and Reuben. On the west side from north to south were Naphtali, Asher, and Gad; on the south side from east to west, Simeon, Issachar, and Zebulun; and on the east side from north to south, Joseph, Benjamin, and Dan. In contrast to Revelation 7:5-8, where Dan is omitted and Joseph and Manasseh are included, Ezekiel mentioned Dan but not Manasseh.” 5
Hitchcock encourages us to “stop and think for a moment about the lives of the twelve sons of Jacob that the tribes were named after. They were devious, sinful men who even sold their brother Joseph into slavery and lied to their aged father. Genesis 38, which recounts the sins of Judah, is one of the most sordid chapters in the Bible. The fact that God etches the names of these men on the gates of His Holy City is an eternal witness to God’s amazing grace. These names on the gates of heaven should reassure us all that ‘even the worst of sinners can enter heaven by God’s redeeming grace.’” 6
Next John writes, “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:14). Regarding the foundations of ancient cities, Alan Johnson observes, “Foundations of ancient cities usually consisted of extensions of the rows of huge stones that made up the wall, down to the bedrock. Jerusalem’s first-century walls and foundation stones have recently been excavated. Huge stones, some of which are about five feet wide, four feet high, and thirty feet long, weighing 80 to 100 tons each and going down some 14 to 19 layers below the present ground level, have been found.” 7
John sees this great and high wall resting on twelve massive foundation stones which emphasizes the permanence of this city compared to former temporary dwellings on the old earth which lacked such foundations. 8 It is very significant that “the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” are written on these foundation stones.The foundation of the New Jerusalem is like that of the church which was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus had promised His apostles, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28).
Gates in ancient cities were often named with reference to where they led. For example, in ancient Jerusalem, the Benjamin gate led to the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. 9 Since the names of the twelve apostles, whom Jesus promised would rule over the twelve tribes of Israel, are on the twelve foundations of the city, this suggests that King Jesus and the Church will rule Israel and the entire new earth from the New Jerusalem. The context supports this understanding when it already identified the New Jerusalem as the Lamb’s Bride, the Church (21:2, 9-10; cf. 19:7, 22:17; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:27).
Hence, every believer in Jesus during this Church age will live in the New Jerusalem and all other believers before and after the Church Age will live outside the City on the new earth. But these other believers will also have access to the New Jerusalem (22:27b).
King Jesus and His Bride will rule the new earth. “Their marriage is one of shared royal power. Their decrees go forth from the gates that lead to the twelve tribes” 10of Israel.
The fact that the apostles are “of the Lamb” (21:14b) once again brings our focus back to where it should be – on the Lamb in this City. 11 Christ is at the center of the New Jerusalem. He is meant to be our central focus both now and throughout eternity.
A man who knew something about the centrality of Christ is the apostle Paul. He wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). While sitting in a prison, Paul realized that the only worthwhile thing in life is Jesus Christ. It was not in his fame or fortune as an apostle. It was not in the money, or in his health, nor in the rewards of ministry. It is Jesus! Christ was the hub around which Paul’s life revolved. For Paul, living was all about Jesus Christ. Since Jesus was at the center of Paul’s life, Paul saw death as a “gain” because it would bring him into the presence of the One who is life itself.
When Jesus is at the center of our lives here on earth, we leave nothing behind when we die because all that is dear to us is already on ahead of us. No one meant more to the apostle Paul than Jesus Christ. Hence, the thought of being with Christ brought great joy to Paul. Jesus was Paul’s most intimate Friend. The thought of being with Him in heaven kept the apostle going. Not because it meant relief from his pain and suffering, but because it meant being with the One who meant the most to him.
As I grow older in the Lord Jesus, I am becoming more convinced that we are not ready to live until we are ready to die. Paul longed to be with Christ in heaven, but he was willing to gladly remain on earth to continue his ministry. He was willing to live or die because for Paul living and dying revolved around Jesus Christ. Could that be said of you and me?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, so much is changing in our world even as we talk to You. But we are deeply encouraged to find stability in our relationship with You because You never change and nor does Your Word. Thank You for reminding us that it is only by Your grace that we could ever live with You in such a glorious place as the New Jerusalem. Reading about the walls, gates, and foundation of this City heightens our anticipation of being in an absolutely secure and permanent place with You for all of eternity. The fact that the apostles will sit on thrones ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel reminds us that we too can sit on thrones if we remain faithful to You to the end. Please grant us the grace to serve You in God-honoring wasy so all the glory goes to You. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6569 to 6574.
2. The Greek word for “furlong” is stadia and is “a measure of distance of about 192 meters” – see Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 940.
3. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1585.
4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 241.
5. Walvoord, location 6574 to 6580.
6. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 455 cites Bruce Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), pg. 515.
7. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 388 cites Alan Johnson, “Revelation,” in Hebrews-Revelation, Vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 596.
8. Constable, pg. 241.
9. Vacendak, pg. 1585.
11. Constable, pg. 241.