“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev. 21:3).
“Here, again, is a dream of the Jews which never died—the dream of the restoration of Jerusalem, the holy city. Once again it has a double background. It has a background which is essentially Greek. One of the great contributions to the world’s philosophical thought was Plato’s doctrine of ideas or forms. He taught that in the invisible world there existed the perfect form or idea of everything upon earth, and that all things on earth were imperfect copies of the heavenly realities. If that be so, there is a heavenly Jerusalem of which the earthly Jerusalem is an imperfect copy. That is what Paul is thinking of when he speaks of the Jerusalem that is above (Galatians 4:26), and also what is in the mind of the writer to the Hebrews when he speaks of the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22).
That way of thought left its mark on Jewish visions between the Testaments. We read that in the Messianic Age the Jerusalem which is invisible will appear (2 Esdras 7:26). The writer of 2 Esdras was, he says, given a vision of it in so far as it was possible for human eyes to bear the sight of the heavenly glory (2 Esdras 10:44-59). In 2 Baruch it is said that God made the heavenly Jerusalem before he made Paradise, that Adam saw it before he sinned, that it was shown in a vision to Abraham, that Moses saw it on Mount Sinai, and that it is now present with God (2 Baruch 4: 2-6).
This conception of preexisting forms may seem strange. But at the back of it is the great truth that the ideal actually exists. It further means that God is the source of all ideals. The ideal is a challenge, which, even if it is not worked out in this world, can still be worked out in the world to come.
The second background of the conception of the New Jerusalem is entirely Jewish. In his synagogue form of prayer, the Jew still prays: ‘And to Jerusalem thy city return with compassion, and dwell therein as thou hast promised; and rebuild her speedily in our days, a structure everlasting; and the throne of David speedily establish there. Blessed art thou, O Lord, the builder of Jerusalem.’
John’s vision of the New Jerusalem uses and amplifies many of the dreams of the prophets. We shall set down some of these dreams and it will be clear at once how the Old Testament again and again finds its echo in the Revelation.
Isaiah had his dream.
‘O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones’ (Isaiah 54:11-12).
Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you…. Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut…. You shall suck the milk of nations, you shall suck the breast of kings…. Instead of bronze I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver; instead of wood, bronze, instead of stones, iron…. Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.
The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended (Isaiah 60:10-20).
Haggai had his dream.
The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:9).
Ezekiel had his dream
of the rebuilt Jerusalem (Ezekiel 40 and Ezekiel 48) in which we find even the picture of the twelve gates of the city (Ezekiel 48:31-35).
The writers between the Testaments had their dreams.
The city which God loved he made more radiant than the stars and the sun and the moon; and he set it as the jewel of the world and made a Temple exceeding fair in its sanctuary, and fashioned it in size of many furlongs, with a giant tower, touching the very clouds, and seen of all, so that all the faithful and the righteous may see the glory of the invisible God, the vision of delight (The Sibylline Oracles 5: 420-427).
And the gates of Jerusalem shall be builded with sapphire and emerald, And all thy walls with precious stones, The towers of Jerusalem shall be builded with gold, And their battlements with pure gold, The streets of Jerusalem shall be paved With carbuncle and stones of Ophir, And the gates of Jerusalem shall utter hymns of gladness, And all her houses shall say, Hallelujah! (Tobit 13:16-18).
It is easy to see that the new Jerusalem was a constant dream; and that John lovingly collected the differing visions—the precious stones, the streets and buildings of gold, the ever-open gates, the light of God making unnecessary the light of the sun and the moon, the coming of the nations and the bringing of their gifts—into his own.
Here is faith! Even when Jerusalem was obliterated, the Jews never lost confidence that God would restore it. True, they expressed their hopes in terms of material things; but these are merely the symbols of the certainty that there is eternal bliss for the faithful people of God” (Daily Bible Study: Revelation, William Barclay).