Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Measuring the Heavenly City in Revelation 21:16?

In Revelation 21 the heavenly city is measured with a gold reed: “The city lies foursquare [‘cubic in shape,’ ISV], its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal” (ESV). The term “stadia” is the plural form of the Greek stádion, approx. one-eighth of a Roman mile, or 607 feet, or 185 meters. In modern-day westernized dimensions, 12,000 stadia would equate to around 1,380 miles or nearly 2,221 kilometers.

Since heaven is a spiritual realm infinitely beyond our ability to conceptualize from a purely materialistic perspective, imagery from the physical world has to be used in the highly symbolic book of Revelation to allow some degree of insight into an otherwise inexplicable reality. The symbolism, therefore, should not be taken literally. This includes numbers and measurements.

The size of the city is not calculated in American miles or British kilometers but according to Greek-measurement figures. The number 12,000 is the combination of 12 (symbolizing God’s people, cf. 21:2, 14) x 1000 (representing, from a human vantage point, something extensive, indefinite, yet complete, cf. 20:4, 6). Thus “12,000” describes the heavenly home of God’s people as more than spacious enough to accommodate all the saved (cp. 7:5-8; cf. John 14:2). 

Heaven is not and cannot be a physically literal city with exact measurements of precise distances (1 Kings 8:27; 1 Cor. 15:50; Col. 3:1-2). From an earthly architectural point of view, a square-cube city is nonsensical, and the incredible lengths of the dimensions are mind-boggling. And that’s the point. Heaven cannot be adequately described with earthly concepts or with literal measurements. If the ancients considered the cube as the most perfect of all geometric forms (cf. 1 Kings 6:20), heaven is depicted as a realm of perfect (also enormous) proportions. 

--Kevin L. Moore


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