(Exodus 28, Revelation 21)
Exodus 28, a chapter of seemingly irrelevant-to-us details about the first tabernacle and its accoutrements, is a passage where we again see the truth of Hebrews 8:5. The Old Testament tabernacle and temple were modelled after the heavenly tabernacle and temple — the New Jerusalem. Every piece of the chapters and chapters of details on the Old Testament tabernacle contains rich meaning when seen in light of the New Jerusalem. I certainly can’t see all the rich meaning in those chapters and chapters of details, but I know it’s there because when I can (at least partially) understand the meaning behind the details, I can see how rich that meaning is. It leads me to believe that all the chapters and chapters of details also contain rich meaning, if only I had eyes to see it.
I don’t know how many times I’ve yawned my way through Exodus 28 until I began to see the connection between it and Revelation 21. Exodus 28 gives us minute descriptions of certain articles of the High Priest’s ceremonial garb, admittedly not generally seen as a fascinating subject. But remember, we know from Hebrews that the earthly high priest was also a “copy” of our heavenly High Priest. And from Exodus 28:2, we learn that the High Priest’s holy garments were designed “…for glory and for beauty.” After we begin to see the meaning behind these garments to our own lives as believers in Jesus, I hope you’ll agree with Exodus 28:2’s assessment. Bear with some details as I tell you a little more about Exodus 28:15-30 and the high priest’s breastplate.
The description of the breastplate bears a great resemblance to the description of the New Jerusalem from Revelation 21. The breastplate was to have four rows of three precious stones per row — twelve altogether (if your math isn’t all it should be, as mine isn’t). The setting for the stones was to be gold. On each of the stones was engraved one of the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Then, there are some instructions on how the breastplate was to be fastened. Why? “…so that the breastplate does not come loose from the ephod” (v. 28). The breastplate was to be fastened securely, and the ephod was to be made in such a way it didn’t tear (v. 32). Also on the breastplate were to be installed two mysterious pieces of equipment — the Urim and the Thummim. The footnotes in my Bible inform me these words mean, “the Lights and the Perfections.”
The theme verse from Exodus 28 on the subject of the breastplate would have to be verse twenty-nine. “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before the LORD continually.” Are you seeing the rich meaning that is “…for glory and for beauty…” yet? Remember that our High Priest is Christ. He bears the names of His people continually over His heart to bring them before His Father. And the breastplate is fastened securely. It cannot tear. He’ll never take off His people that He wears over His heart. We’ll never be torn from Him.
And the people of God are represented by precious stones.
The list from Exodus 28 is not exactly the same as the list of precious stones in Revelation 21. But I think the point is the same from both lists of twelve stones. There are twelve of them. And they are precious.
First, you have to understand that the New Jerusalem is the people of God. In Revelation 21:2-3, the Apostle John states, “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
Did you catch it? The New Jerusalem is compared to a bride. And we know who the bride is, don’t we? The symbolism of God’s people as His bride is scattered throughout the entire Bible, but nowhere are the references scattered thicker than in the book of Revelation. The New Jerusalem=God’s people.
The twelve precious stones on which the city is built carries the same symbolism. There are twelve of them. That’s the number of the people of God. In the Old Testament, the twelve stones on the breastplate of the High Priest bore the names of the God’s people in the Old Testament. In Revelation, the foundation stones (adorned with precious stones) bear the twelve names of the people of God in the New Testament or the names of the apostles upon whose testimonies the New Testament people of God (the Church) was founded (Matt. 16:18, Eph. 2:20). 1 Peter 2:4-5 tells us that we are living stones. “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We see ourselves here as the building material for the temple God is building — a temple built on the One True Cornerstone with ourselves as the building stones.
I have to admit that, in the past, although I loved the pieces of Revelation 21 depicting the New Jerusalem as the place where we get to be with God and where He’ll wipe all tears from our eyes and where there will be no more bad stuff at all, the parts about the gold and precious stones didn’t do a thing for me. I’m just not into gems and other precious minerals. They’re pretty, but for me, there’s no comparing between them and all the other beauty God put in the world — mountains, trees, oceans, lakes, rivers. I preferred to see the gold and precious stones of Revelation 21 as merely a description of the New Jerusalem in the terms of beauty and value that most would see as beautiful and valuable (even if I don’t. I am a strange sort of female, I realize.).
But I think I was missing the main point of Revelation 21:18-27. The point is not only that heaven is being compared to what the majority of humans finds beautiful and valuable. That is one point, certainly. But the main point of the precious stones is that we are the precious stones. I see it from Exodus 28. I see it from comparing Exodus 28 to Revelation 21. I see it from the number of the gemstones and the names on them in both passages. What (the majority of) humanity finds to be of the greatest beauty and value, that’s how God sees His people. We’re what He sees to be of greatest beauty and value. That’s the significance of the precious stones in Revelation 21. In Malachi 3:17, God says of His people, ” ‘They shall be Mine,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.’ ”
Now, let’s look briefly at the setting of gold. The setting for the precious stones of Exodus 28 is gold. The setting for the precious stones in Revelation 21 is gold. When God, in His Word, uses “gold” as a metaphor for something of true value, what is that valuable commodity?
Check out 1 Peter again. 1 Peter 1:7 says, “that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” And Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:10-17, speaks of building on the foundation of Christ with either gold, silver, and precious stones (things which withstand fiery trials) or with the things that fire destroys: wood, hay, and stubble/straw. He says, “each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (vv. 13-15). He then goes on to tell us as believers that we are the temple of God that is built on the foundation of Christ.
If we are God’s precious stones (and we are), our faith and the little acts of service or sacrifice we offer Him (especially those acts offered through the fires of pain and suffering) are His gold and silver. We are what He considers precious. Our faith, our offerings to Him, are what He considers of great value.
After realizing what the gold and gemstones from Revelation 21 were really telling me, I began seeing them through new eyes. The point of the gold and precious stones in Revelation 21 is not that we’ll find God and eternally dwelling with Him to be beautiful and of worth. Though that is certainly true, it’s the obvious. What the gold and precious stones of Revelation 21 are really saying is much more astonishing, much less obvious. The gold and precious stones of the New Jerusalem are not God Himself. They are us. They are our faith, our offerings to Him. The point of the gold and precious stones in Revelation 21 is that God finds us and eternally dwelling with us beautiful and of worth. This is so nearly unbelievable, it makes tears spring to my eyes. Yet isn’t it what we see from Revelation 21? It’s so clearly laid out that we miss it. The New Jerusalem (built of gold and precious stones) is the bride. The bride is infinitely precious to her Groom. The Groom dwells with His bride, in His temple, in His city, because that’s His desire. His desire is for her. His bride is the object of such love and tender affection that no sacrifice He could make, no bride price, was too great to pay for her.
Why are we precious? Why are we valuable? Because of the price God set on us. And He set that price on us because of His enormous love for us. It’s too much for us to take in!
Quickly, I want to look at the Urim and Thummim of Exodus 28 and then the pearly gates of Revelation 21. I learned from my helpful footnotes that Urim and Thummim mean “the Lights and the Perfections.” Now, if those two don’t tie nicely into Revelation 21, I don’t know what does.
God’s people are His precious stones. Christ wears them always over His heart. And there, right in the midst of them, are “the Lights” and “the Perfections.” And, according to Revelation 21:3, 22-27, there, right in the midst of His people, are the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb, the lights of the city and its perfections. There are the Father and Son, dwelling with their people. Awesome stuff, those chapters and chapters of details in Exodus!
Now, the pearly gates. The symbolism on this one is a dead giveaway from John 10:9, “I am the door…” (said Jesus). There is only one way into God’s city. There is only one door. There is only one gate. Well, there are twelve, from Revelation 21, but they’re all made of the same material — pearl.
Doesn’t this lend new meaning to Matthew 13:45-46 — the parable of the “kingdom of heaven” as a pearl of great price, worth giving up everything else to have? From Revelation 21, we can see why. The “kingdom of heaven” is our Lord Himself. Dwelling forever with Him. He is the pearl. He is the gate, and He is the pearl.
There’s an interesting thing that sets apart the pearly gates from all the other gemstones listed in Revelation 21. Pearl is precious, but it’s not a precious stone. It’s not a stone at all.
Think for a moment about the pearl-making process. Why would Christ be compared to a pearl in Revelation 21?
One thing that occurs to me: as I mentioned, pearl is not a stone. It’s an organic substance. It comes from something living. Christ is the ever-living One, the only human who was never dead in trespasses and sins. The rest of us started off life dead and had to be turned into “living stones.” He was always alive. That may be stretching the analogy, however. Probably the main thing we know about pearls is that they are not made without a little suffering. While I don’t know how accurate it is to speak of an oyster suffering, we do use pearls as a metaphor for beauty out of suffering. Our entrance into the city of God is made from the beauty that comes through His suffering.
And that’s where the picture of the New Jerusalem should begin and end — with Him. The building of it begins with the foundation, and He alone is the Cornerstone. The building of a city ends with its gates, and He alone is the gate. Yes, the New Jerusalem is us. The New Jerusalem is the bride. We are His bride, yet we are His body. As a man and wife are one flesh, so are Christ and His bride. We are the New Jerusalem, but so is He.
And that will be heaven — to be joined with Him forever in unbreakable harmony and union.