10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11 Having the glory of God: and her light [was] like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; 12 And had a wall great and high, [and] had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are [the names] of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: 13 On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15 And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. 16 And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. 17 And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred [and] forty [and] four cubits, [according to] the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.
This section offers the first description of the holy Jerusalem, full of resplendent glory.
Vs.10 “carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain” – Although Moses, in the Pearl of Great Price, mentions being “caught up into an exceedingly high mountain” (Moses 1:1), the only other prophet who mentions being carried away in the spirit “into an exceedingly high mountain” (1 Ne 10:1) in order to see a vision is Nephi, who later ties his vision to that of John (see comment below about other connections between Nephi’s vision and Revelation). Nephi uses this imagery of motion while “in the Spirit” six times in the space of six chapters while describing his vision, three times referring to himself, once referring to the Apostles of the Lamb, and twice referring to Mary. In each instance, physical movement is described, with the individual being “caught away” or “carried away.” This type of visionary movement is not used again throughout the rest of the Book of Mormon, although a later Nephi is literally “conveyed away” (He 10:16) from one group of people “in the Spirit” (Hel 10:17) in order to preach to another. Paul mentions being “caught up” into a vision of paradise, and implies movement when he mentions that he isn’t aware whether he was caught up “in the body” or “out of the body.” Joseph Smith’s vision of heavenly realms in D&C 76 combines the two themes, mentioning an uncertainty about the corporeal nature of the experience, and mentioning numerous times that he and Sidney Rigdon are “in the spirit.” Elsewhere in scripture, such as in Rev 4:2, being “in the spirit” seems to imply not that the spirit has carried the prophet to another location in order to see the vision, but that the prophet is in the correct frame of mind and endowed with the power of God in order to perceive the vision.
This leads back to Eric’s earlier statement: “Saints in every age labor to build a holy community… In these instances a Spiritual approach is appropriate, because a spiritual community is trying to realize heaven on earth in this fallen sphere. Further, an LDS literal interpretation is also a symbolic one, inasmuch as the celestialized earth indeed becomes ‘heaven’ for its inhabitants.” While the author of Revelation had to be carried to another location in order to be in the correct location to see the holy city descend, it is also important in interpreting the vision to understand that disciples of Christ must be “in the spirit” to recognize the qualities of and to help bring to pass the holy city, as builders of Zion. For this prophetic goal, see Heb 11:10, Abraham: “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
Vs. 11-17 -- Interestingly, the author of Revelation describes being carried away in the Spirit one other time in Revelation: when he had the vision of the mother of harlots, representing the worldly city Babylon. In this case, rather than being carried to a high mountain, he was carried away into the wilderness. While the abode of the mother of harlots in the wilderness might remind the reader of the curse placed on Adam and Eve: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake… thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee” (Gen 3:17-18), the high mountain would serve as a reminder of the paradisiacal Garden of Eden, which served as high ground for the rivers which descended from it to water the earth (Gen 2:10-14). While the wilderness creates an image of the desolation and curse of the world, the mountain signals to the reader an entry into sacred space, where heaven can touch earth and where the chaos of a fallen world can be overcome as order is created by divine interaction. Accordingly, the city of God is a place of beauty and order in Revelation, where tears are wiped away and where the chaos of death, sorrow, crying, and pain are done away with (21:4). I will refrain from commenting on jasper, since the stones of the city will likely be discussed further in a subsequent section of this blog. The gates, wall, and foundation of the city have been built to exact, symbolically significant measurements and the city is perfectly symmetrical (21:13-17).
The constant repetition of various forms of the number 12, with the overt reference to the twelve apostles and to the twelve tribes of Israel, whose names are written on the gates and on the foundations of the wall, may indicate that God remembers his promises and covenants with the ancient tribes of Israel, whose destiny is now tied up with Christ’s meridian-day and (and latter-day) Church. Both modes of leadership in God’s kingdom are tied together in the heavenly city: patriarchal leadership and apostolic leadership, and both are necessary. The number 12 could signify the importance of priesthood power and the importance of the Abrahamic covenant and God’s promise to gather and redeem the twelve tribes of Israel in the last days. Twelve squared in vs. 17 would then symbolize a fullness of priesthood power and a fullness of the redemption of the twelve tribes. The size and shape of the city (vs. 16-17) should also be mentioned. The length, breadth, and height (!) of the holy city are each 12,000 stadion, or almost 1,400 miles! (1 stadion = about 200 yards.) The city is beyond the scope of human effort and must be measured by an angel, much like the wall of the temple in Ezekiel 40. This is in contrast to Revelation 11, in which John was asked to measure the temple while the earthly city of Jerusalem was still under worldly influence. The temple still maintained order in the midst of chaos in Rev 11, and could be measured. However, the immense walls of the holy city in Rev 21 could not be measured by a human being. They were the work of God. The shape of the city as a perfect cube could also symbolize the joining of earth and heaven. The 4-sided dimensions of the square symbolizes the four “corners” of the earth, but the additional third dimension of height symbolizing a heavenly perfection that existed within the city.
In the holy city, the foundations will prevent the wall from falling, the extremely high walls will protect the inhabitants and keep evil and disorder out, and the gates will allow all of the true “children of Israel” to enter. The presence of angels at each of the gates of the city reminds of the cherubim on the veil of the Tabernacle which guarded the entrance to the Holy of Holies, even more so since the dimensions of the city are a perfect square, reminiscent of the shape of the Holy of Holies. The image of the cherubim upon the veil in turn reminds of the cherubim who were placed at the entrance of Eden to guard the way back to the tree of life. Further imagery connecting the holy Jerusalem with the garden of Eden will come in Rev 22. All of this stands in contrast to Babylon, in which there is not mention of a foundation, wall, or gates. It is full of chaos, “abominations,” (17:5) and “the blood of the saints,” (17:6). It is the “habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird” (18:2). Later in chapter 21, the contrast between the order of the holy Jerusalem and the chaos of Babylon is made clear: “And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abominations or maketh a lie” (21:27). Through symbolic imagery, Revelation teaches of the results of staying under the influence of the world and of Babylon, and the serenity, peace, and order that are available when one comes to sacred space, is “in the spirit,” and can be a part of the holy city of God. The orderly measuring of the holy city might also remind the Latter-day Saint reader of the model of holy cities centered on temples, presented by Joseph Smith and continued by Brigham Young. In these cities the streets of the community spread out in orderly fashion from the temple, with wide roads, spacious lots, and an orderly distribution of homes, much like Moses’ camp of Israel was centered on the temple in an orderly fashion, with three tribes on each side. Saints and disciples seek to create order from chaos, and promote life where there was previously wilderness.
The earthly city, Babylon: Eric earlier mentioned the scriptural precedence for a bride being connected with a city, and Julie questioned whether the negative image of cities in Genesis is redeemed with the emergence of the holy city. What is the connection between the bride and the city? I’ll present here one possible answer to that question and would welcome other thoughts. Because cities are only created when men and women decide to live in close proximity to each other, cooperating to achieve common purposes, the city becomes an excellent symbol for community, or unity. The instance of the tower of Babylon provides an archetype for the dangers of a city of mankind bent on selfish, prideful designs. Men have great power when they use their agency and desires to join together and accomplish their designs. At the tower of Babel, the combination that was created sought to thwart God’s designs. The Lord said of their work, “This they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. (Gen 11:6)” Similar warnings against the power of evil combinations of men to overthrow the work of God are found in abundance in the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price. The great city Babylon became the symbol par excellence of a society of mankind full of pride and full of the love of material things, which sought to thwart the purposes of God to fulfill its own lustful desires.
The heavenly city, Jerusalem: The city of Enoch works as the opposing symbol to the tower of Babel, but is not mentioned in Genesis. We instead have to find a description of it in the JST and in the Pearl of Great Price. While those at the tower of Babel desired to make a name for themselves (Gen 11:4), the inhabitants of Zion desired to dwell in righteousness (Moses 7:18), and received their name from God. The author of Revelation sets up the scene beautifully. Babylon is described at length in Rev 17, and the reader is shown that, while powerful, the combinations of men will not overthrow the works of God in the end, but will be overcome by the disorder and chaos that they sought to embrace. Just as the evil attempts of mankind concluded in even greater disorder and lack of unity at the tower of Babel because of God’s power to confuse the languages, so will Babylon ultimately be destroyed because of God’s sovereignty. Instead of Babylon, when heaven connects with earth, heavenly cities dwelt in by humankind can be created and mankind can overcome the chaos of a fallen world to live in peaceful and righteous community. The key to the redemption of the city is found in the sovereignty of God and mankind’s acceptance of heavenly principles. The importance of the model of the righteous, heavenly city is emphasized in LDS scripture. JST Gen 9:21-22 repeats a theme that has been mentioned earlier in this blog: The heavenly city comes when God sends it, but also when mankind is prepared to create it. The rainbow was set as a sign that the heavenly city would be sent again by God as soon as there was a people prepared to follow God’s commandments. “21b. When men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself. 22. And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when they posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward….” The connection between covenant and holy cities is inferred by this statement.
The symbol of the woman: The woman, as a symbol of life and creation through procreative powers, is also a powerful symbol of unity. When procreative powers are abused in a mocking irony of the unity that should only exist within the marital covenant, the woman is described as the harlot, or the mother of all harlots. But when the woman becomes a holy bride, prepared for the bridegroom, then the earth can be prepared for the unity that will exist when God rules over his people and they are unified through sacred covenants. In short, both the woman and the city are used as symbols of unity, community, power, beauty, and life. When the power of community or the power of life are used for lustful, selfish purposes, the symbols become an evil mockery of that which is good, and are destined for failure and destruction. When they are used to connect to and become one with God, they are symbols of joy and beauty. I believe Rev 12:17 contains a central statement of the book which emphasizes the importance of the symbol of the woman. It describes Satan’s war against the life, unity, and community that the people of God seek to create, symbolized by the woman: “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Side comment: A few other similarities between Nephi’s vision and that of the author of Revelation include (among many others, I’m sure): 1) John contrasts the mother of harlots (17:5), representing the city of Babylon, with the bride of the Lamb, the holy Jerusalem (21:9-10). Nephi contrasts the glorious virgin, in the city of Nazareth (1 Ne 11:13) with the “mother of all harlots,” “the great and abominable church… whose founder is the devil” (1 Ne 14:17) and who will have God’s wrath poured out upon her, as also occurs in Revelation. 2) The author of Revelation uses the title Lamb for Christ 26 times. The only other time in the New Testament that this title is used is in the Gospel of John, where it is used twice. Nephi uses the title “Lamb” for Christ 56 times during his vision. (It is used once before Nephi’s vision when Lehi was describing his own vision.) The title is not used elsewhere besides in Nephi’s writings (he also uses it in his concluding address, 2 Ne 31-33) until Alma the younger (three times), Mormon (once) and Moroni (five times). Interestingly, two of the times Moroni uses the title (so, two out of the nine times it is used by someone other than Nephi), are in his description of Ether’s vision of the New Jerusalem. 3) The commands given to the author of Revelation to “look/behold,” and to “write” (mentioned earlier by Brandie), are prevalent in Nephi’s vision as well, although the command to write is only implied in 1 Ne 14. Nephi is commanded to “Look!” (with a heavy, urgent emphasis on action) thirteen different times in his short vision. This command is not used anywhere else in the Book of Mormon in the same way.