(21) The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.
(22) I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
(23) The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
Revelation 21:21–23, NIV
Lord our God, we thank you that you have given us your glorious future as the basis for our lives. We thank you that on this foundation we can forget our present troubles and believe that the power of good can move us today to oppose sin, death, and everything evil. Free our hearts from all burdens, and grant that we may have courage to wait patiently for the great help which is to come. Grant that what is happening in the world today may somehow help toward the solution of all the problems. We praise your name, our Father in the heavens. We praise you for the good you do for us each day and for the light you will shed one day on everything on earth, to the glory of your name. Amen.
The context of the words of Revelation 21:21–23, NIV
Revelation 21:9–27 presents a description of the New Jerusalem. Interpreters disagree about whether this is a flashback to the millennial reign of Christ, or a description of the eternal state of the city. A flashback is not unprecedented in Revelation, occurring in chapters 11, 14, 15, and 17. However, some verses here clearly refer to eternal conditions, and most scholars take this as a depiction of the eternal, final heavenly city.
This chapter focuses on the New Jerusalem. This is not the earthly, historic Jerusalem of the tribulation (Revelation 11:2, 8). Nor is it the surviving Jerusalem of the millennium that serves as Jesus' capital (Revelation 20:9). It is the heavenly city referred to in Hebrews 12:22, whose designer and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10, 16). John attempts to describe the indescribable using analogies to precious gems and metals.
Meaning of the words
"The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass"
Each of the twelve gates in New Jerusalem appears to be made of a single pearl. This is the source of the "pearly gates" cliché so often used to describe the entrance to heaven.
In ancient times pearls ranked as extremely valuable and rare gems. Modern pearl farming was not something available to the ancient world. One reason Caesar wanted to conquer Britain was to acquire its pearl-fisheries. The surface of most city streets today is either concrete or asphalt, but the streets of New Jerusalem are pure gold like transparent glass. Both the pearl gates and the streets of gold must bathe the city in a magnificent glow.
In 2018 the world's then-largest pearl known as "The Sleeping Lion," was sold at auction in the Hague, Netherlands, for $374,000 by the Amsterdam Pearl Society and purchased by a Japanese trader. It weighed about 5.4 ounces (153 g) and was 2.75 inches (70 mm) long. Given that value, it is mind-boggling to estimate the value of a pearl large enough to compose an entire gate in New Jerusalem! And the value multiplies greatly when we consider that all twelve gates are each made of a pearl.
"I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple"
In Old Testament times, the Israelites worshiped God in a temple, but New Jerusalem doesn't need a temple because the entire city is the dwelling place of Almighty God and the Lamb. In Old Testament times God's presence graced a temple in Jerusalem. It was the center of Jewish worship for centuries before the exile, when it was laid waste by the Babylonians. When a delegation of Jews returned from captivity, they rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 6:13–18).
Although no temple is located in this heavenly New Jerusalem, a temple exists on earth in Jerusalem during the millennium. Malachi 3:1 predicts part of this end-times victory, saying "And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple." Zechariah 14:16 predicts that survivors of the nations that launch an assault on Jerusalem will "go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths." These concepts of worship and festivals imply the existence of a temple in Jerusalem during the millennium.
This lack of an explicit temple also reinforces the new covenant promised by God in Jeremiah 31:31–34, which indicates a direct relationship between man and God.
"The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp"
Ancient cities were often dark. They did not have lighting systems, so they depended upon lighted torches or the light of the sun by day and the light of the moon at night. How different the New Jerusalem is. It enjoys glorious light all the time, as God and the Lamb provide it. The residents of New Jerusalem will never receive an electric bill or experience a blackout. Light will come from God's glory. Neither the moon nor the sun is needed to shine on New Jerusalem. Jesus, the Light of the world (John 1:9; 8:12), serves as the city's lamp.
In Old Testament times the shekinah glory shone at various times as God revealed His glory. When Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, a brilliant light accompanied Jesus' appearance and blinded Saul (Acts 9:3–9). The apostle John wrote in 1 John 1:5 that "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."