This glorious city is surrounded by a high wall in which are set twelve gates, guarded by twelve angels. The gates are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes and the foundation stones of the walls carry the names of the twelve apostles. Angels guard the gates and only those written in the Lamb’s Book of Life can enter (Rev. 21:27). The earthly city of Jerusalem did not have twelve gates. John is seeing the same visionary city Ezekiel saw which was to be built by a restored Israel under a new covenant and named, “The Lord is there” (Ezek. 48:35). On each of the four sides of the city are three gates, each named for one of the twelve tribes of Israel (Ezek. 48:30-34).
Four sides plus three gates equal the covenant number seven. Four multiplied by three equal the number of the twelve tribes or their New Testament counterpart, the twelve apostles. Here again the complete people of God, both old and new covenant, are the foundation and entry into the city. The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham looked for this city with foundations “whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:8-10), and Paul writes to the Ephesians. “You … are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:19-20).
The angel speaking to John produces a golden ruler with which to measure the city, and finds its dimensions to be 12,000 stadia in all directions. The number is symbolic of a restored Israel with the 12 tribes multiplied by 1,000, the number of perfection or completion. The equality of length, width and height also indicates perfection, and looks back to the temple in Ezekiel’s vision which, when measured, was found to be equal in length on all sides. Ezekiel explains the significance of the measurement by saying, “[The man] measured it on the four sides; it had a wall all around, the length five hundred and the width five hundred, to divide between the holy and the profane” (Ezek. 42:20). This is the holy city of God, and all of its inhabitants are sanctified (cf. Rev. 21:27). Applied to the city wall, the golden ruler produces a reading of 144 cubits (Rev. 21:17). The number symbolizes the first fruits, or early church: 12 apostles multiplied by 12 patriarchs equal the completed bride/wife of God.
John continues to give details about the gates and foundation stones of the city which indicate that the new Jerusalem has features strongly resembling Solomon’s temple. A description of that temple in 2 Chronicles informs us that it is adorned (literally “overlaid”) with gold and precious stones (2 Chron. 3:6-7). John sees the new Jerusalem made of pure gold, and its foundations set with precious stones. In both cases the precious stones reflect the ephod worn by the high priest, set with precious stones in which were engraved the names of the twelve tribes.
Revelation and Hebrews comparison
There is a lot of similarity between Rev 21-22 and Hebrews 11-12. It draws from the OT prophets very extensively. And it relates to what Paul said about the Jerusalem above. Notice who the foundation stones of this new city are (the twelve apostles) (Rev. 21:14). And the twelve gates into the city are named after the twelve tribes, representing ALL ISRAEL entering into it (all OT and NT believing Jews/Gentiles).
Hebrews chapters 11-12 – In Heb 11:8-16, Apostle Paul refers to the Promised Land that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had longed for as being a BETTER COUNTRY, a HEAVENLY ONE. This new Promised Land would have a new city (New Jerusalem) in it, the heavenly Jerusalem. And there would be a new temple in that New Jerusalem (Hebrews 9-12 and Rev 21-22), but it would not be like the old physical temple. This new temple would simply be God Himself dwelling in their midst (Rev. 21:2-3, 22).
We are citizens of that heavenly country, which is the Kingdom of God, both in its earthly aspect (the visible church on earth), and in its heavenly aspect (the invisible church in heaven).
That is the heavenly country we go to after we die. That is the New Jerusalem that Jesus brought down from the highest heaven to the lowest heaven when he descended from heaven at His Parousia. That is where the dwelling places are that Jesus went to prepare for all of us when he ascended to the Father. That New Jerusalem is there waiting for us in the unseen spiritual realm. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the saints are now dwelling in that Promised Land.
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 9 Rev. Chapter 21”]