“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Revelation 21:9-14 (NKJV)
“The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.” Revelation 21:18-26 (NKJV)
I have hard time trying to imagine a city that meets the descriptions given in these verses. Some people believe that this description to be figurative and not literal. They say that the sight of heaven was too wonderful to be able to be described by humans and so John did his best to put it into a language we could understand.
As I try to wrap my mind around how the city is described in these verses, I tend to think that the reason it is described in these ways is to remind us of the glory of God. We are given a picture of the city of the great King. In the ancient world, the city of the king was usually the most splendid city in the kingdom. This was so that important visitors would be impressed at the greatness of the king. Think about how Solomon’s kingdom is described in 2 Chronicles. It talks about thrones made of ivory and overlaid with pure gold. It talks about silver being so common that it lost its value. It talks about the great riches that Solomon accumulated. This was done in part to show that God had kept His promise to Solomon and had made him great.
In a similar way, the description of streets of gold, gates of pearl, walls of precious stones, is meant to remind us of the greatness of God. The gold, pearl and precious stones are all incidental. They aren’t the point. The point is that God is great and glorious. He is so great and glorious that the things of great value on earth are nothing more than bricks and pavement for His city. The greatness and glory of heaven is God.
Think about the descriptions given of God on His throne in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4. These things are meant to inspire us to recognize that God is greater and more glorious than anything else. It is mean to inspire us to give our lives in service and devotion to Him. He is worth infinitely more than gold and precious gems. The valuable things of this world are nothing compared to our great and glorious God. It’s sorta like the parable of the treasure in the field and pearl of great price (Matt 13:44-46). God is worth more than anything else. This is why Paul would willing suffer the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in comparison to knowing Jesus Christ (Phil 3:8). The glories of the city remind us of the greater glory of God. This inspires us to willingly lose everything for the sake of Christ.