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number 12 in Scripture symbolizes government. This, then, is the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Isaiah, "The government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
The city is amazingly vast, measuring 12,000 stadia long, high, and wide. In modern measurements, 12,000 stadia equals roughly 1,500 miles — about the distance from Los Angeles to St. Louis or from New York to Denver. For comparison, the moon is about 2,160 miles in diameter. The fact that the city measures exactly the same in all three dimensions does not mean that it is a perfect cube, only that it is a city of perfect proportions and symmetry. It may be intricately formed with spires and domes and graceful buttresses and bridges, or it may be a perfect pyramid. Whatever its shape it will symbolize perfection and it will be the realization of utter beauty.
In verses 18 through 21 John goes on to reveal the materials from which the city is made.
21:18-21 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 chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, 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 pure gold, like transparent glass.
Let your imagination savor this image: a structure of crystalline transparent gold surrounded by a wall of diamond-like jasper, rising from a layered, kaleidoscopic foundation of precious stones of all colors. Light cascades from great jewels embedded in the sides like the light from an intensely bright rainbow. The entire effect is so brilliant and variegated that it can only be described as heartbreakingly beautiful. To see it would bring tears to your eyes and a throb in your chest.
The multicolored foundations, as we have seen, symbolize the twelve apostles. They portray the fact that the truths proclaimed by the apostles shine forth with a many-faceted and brilliant light. Paul, in Ephesians 3, says that "now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms." The Greek word in this passage for "manifold" (polupoikilos) literally means "many-colored" or "multicolored." The image Paul gives us is like that of the twelve multicolored foundations of the New Jerusalem: God's brilliant, prismatic wisdom flashes forth through the vehicle of the twelve apostles.
Each gate is composed of a single pearl (which suggests the existence of some very large oysters!). Despite all the jokes you have heard about Saint Peter standing at the "Pearly Gates" of heaven, there are in fact twelve such gates — and we don't see Peter guarding any of them!
The fact is that these gates of pearl have a deep symbolic significance. A pearl speaks of beauty born out of pain. The beauty of a pearl comes from the pain of an oyster. A pearl is formed when a tiny grain of sand gets inside an oyster's shell, causing the oyster to become irritated and uncomfortable. The oyster relieves its pain by covering the irritating grain of sand with a soft, lustrous nacre that hardens into a beautiful, glowing pearl.
This is a beautiful picture of how the redeemed have emerged like a beautiful, luminous pearl out of the pain of Jesus Christ. The Lord told a story of just such a pearl. "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls," He said. "When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." The merchant in the story is Jesus, who gave up everything — His prerogatives as God, the worship that is due Him, and even His mortal life — in order to redeem the saints, which He deemed a pearl of great price. He sold all He had to purchase you and me for Himself.
Because of the sacrifice Jesus made to redeem us, the redeemed will never forget throughout eternity the pain and the shame of the cross of Christ. They will sing forever,